The UK’s first female Muslim referee has set her sights on officiating in the Premier League.
Jawahir Roble, 26, moved with her parents to Britain at the age of 10 to escape the civil war raging in Somalia.
Leaving her home country, and all her friends, without a chance to say goodbye was understandably tough for Roble, who is known as JJ by her friends.
But for a football-mad girl, living in Wembley was the ideal place to settle and she found that the game helped her integrate and communicate with her classmates at a time when she spoke no English at all.
“You don’t need to know anybody’s language to play football,” she told the PA news agency.
“Football has helped me so much, it has developed me as a person. Sometimes communicating with people is difficult, especially with other kids. That’s how I started learning the language – it was bringing my own football to the school and kids would come to me and say ‘Oh, Jawahir, you have a football, can we please play?’ Just with hand gestures they could say ‘come on, let’s play together’ and I was like ‘OK, let’s go’.”
Her dreams of playing professionally were ended when her parents forbade her from playing, but it led her into new passion – refereeing.
“I started volunteering at my local clubs and then one time I was asked to this local girls’ league and they did not have enough referees so they asked me to volunteer,” she recalls.
“It was such a cool Saturday, I just went straight into it. I love football, I love the rules. I’ve learned to appreciate referees more and I’m so glad I gave it a chance, because sometimes you have to give it a go.
“My plan in life was to become a professional footballer and then a few years later it became a passion with refereeing. That was never my plan but I am glad it happened.”
And now, for Roble, the sky is the limit. Asked whether she hoped to referee in the Premier League or the Women’s Super League, she said: “Honestly that’s the mission.
“I’m getting my fitness up, I’ve lost a lot of weight you know, I’ve got cheekbones and everything. It’s happening – university has finished and I am going all out.”
As a black Muslim woman, discrimination is something she knows can happen but says she has little personal experience of it.
“I am very fortunate,” she said.
“I am a black woman, I am visibly a Muslim, I don’t think I can recall any incidents. Once, a parent came up to me and said ‘ref, someone said something discriminatory to you, you should chase it up’. But apart from that one incident, I’ve been very lucky so far.”
Roble, who was speaking as part of UEFA’s #WePlayStrong and its Strong Is…. series, talked about her own definition of strength.
“Strength is having your own weaknesses and sharing them with other people,” she said. “It’s showing people that those weaknesses are not the end of the world and they can do it, they can push themselves.
“Without any struggles, no one is going to get anywhere, it doesn’t happen like that. I want to inspire as many young girls as possible.”