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Meet Jawahir Jewels – the most remarkable referee in England

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The thing Jawahir Jewels always enjoys is the moment it dawns on the players involved that she will be refereeing their game.

When she trots out on to some swamp of a municipal pitch to take charge of a Sunday morning hangover hackaround, she is unfailingly amused by the look of astonishment that descends over the faces of those about to kick off.

“I love it,” she smiles. “Sometimes I have to tell them about five times: ‘Yeah, man, I am your referee.’ And they usually go: ‘No way, when’s the proper ref coming?’ ”

It is not entirely surprising they need telling. Weekend amateurs rarely find their games presided over by a tiny, black, Muslim young woman in a head scarf. In fact she is the only such Football Association-qualified official they are likely to encounter.

“I say to them: ‘Excuse me, don’t judge me till you’ve seen me in action,’ ” she says. “I do know how to play football and yes I do know the offside rule. Which is more than most of them.”

If someone says something to me I don’t get emotional. I just think they’re ignorant
I first heard about JJ – as she likes to be known – after my son played in a London league game she refereed. He said she was excellent: totally in control, keeping up with play, brave and consistent in her decision making.

Even so, midway through the second half one of the opposition players had towered over her (everyone towers over her) poking his finger in her face as he noisily complained about a call she had just made. My son had intervened, telling the bloke to back off.

“Look at her,” he had said. “Show a bit of respect.”

“It’s you who’s not showing her respect,” the finger-jabber had retorted. “I’m showing her proper respect: I’m treating her like I’d treat any other referee.” To which there really was no answer.

When I remind JJ of that incident, she grins wide. “Yeah, you’d be shocked at what sometimes gets said. I say to them: ‘Talk to me normal, don’t chat rubbish.’ But they always do it. Sometimes I watch rugby on telly, see the way they talk to the ref and I think: wow that’s proper respect.”

The time I catch up with her in action she is taking charge of a fund-raising match at Dulwich Hamlet’s ground for the excellent educational charity Football Beyond Borders. She looks so vulnerable out in the middle, in her head scarf and black leggings, every player on the pitch apparently at least a foot taller than her.

But she shows no fear dealing with former Premier League players such as Jamie Lawrence and Leon Cort. And, in turn, they seem to regard her as competent, even if Lawrence at one stage rails against her decision to overrule her linesman on an offside call.

“First half I didn’t really notice her, which is kind of what you want of a ref,” says Cort. “Second half got a bit tougher, more competitive, harder for her. But she’s learning. She done well.”

If it seems astonishing that somebody who already faces sizeable openings to prejudice would wish to embrace a calling which is routinely subject to abuse and violence, JJ says she loves everything about being a referee.

“It’s brilliant,” she says. “It’s such fun, man. Can’t get enough of it, being involved in the game I love.”

If they want a fight, go to the boxing gym. They’re not doing that on my football pitch
Brought up in north west London by her Somali parents, JJ, now 23, has been mad about football for as long as she can remember. A promising schoolgirl player, she first took up a whistle when she was undertaking her coaching badges in her teens. Initially it was on an informal basis: taking charge of junior matches. And immediately she did so, she came to appreciate that this was not a pursuit for the faint-hearted.

“It wasn’t the kids, they were great,” she says. “It was the parents. I always had parents bad-mouthing: ‘What you doing ref? You’re useless.’ It’s what everyone who refs kids games gets. I just smiled.” But not every official in charge of junior football is a black, Muslim woman in a head scarf. From the start, some of the comments boiling up from the touchline were more than pointed.

“One game a guy was really racial,” she recalls. “I didn’t hear him. But other parents did.”

One spectator approached her after the match and asked if she wanted to make a formal complaint. With their support, she reported the abuse to the local FA, but did not hear any more. Not that it put her off. She decided to qualify properly as a referee. And she was soon moving up the ladder, able to take control of more significant matches, like women’s games at City University, where she is studying computer science.

Her ambition soon began to form: eventually to take charge of matches in the Women’s Premier League. But to get there, she first had to referee men’s 11-a-side games, to test not just her ability to read the game, but her resilience.

“My dad said to me from when I started: be careful, there’ll be haters out there,” she says. “But I see myself as a strong person. If someone says something to me I don’t get emotional. I just think they’re ignorant.”

Now studying for the FA’s Level Six referee qualification, she has a long way to go to reach her stated aim. But her attitude and enthusiasm has already been recognised on the amateur circuit. “I go all over the place, miles,” she says. “Refereeing doesn’t make me nervous. What makes me nervous is thinking I’m not going to get there in time for kick-off because I’m having to get there on public transport.”

When she does arrive, there is one thing of which she can be certain: park matches are the most exposed element of the game for referees. They turn up alone, without linesmen, finding themselves often at the wrong end of serious anger-management issues. And all for a £35 match fee.

“When you’re on your own, trust me you have to work twice as hard,” she says. “And you get no help. I always prepare for the worst, I’m always on YouTube looking at footage of how referees cope [Mark Clattenburg is her favourite].”

Despite assumptions, what she has found does usually happen is not abuse or violence. She has never been called anything untoward to her face, except “b—– ref” which she rather enjoys hearing, as it means she is being judged on what she does rather than who she is. Mostly what she encounters in park fixtures is not high-level prejudice but low-level gamesmanship.

“Sometimes you’d be shocked how blatant people are about cheating: ‘I never touched it ref,’ when they quite clearly just booted it out.” JJ, though, says she will not withstand any nonsense.

“Have I ever sent anyone off? Yeah, course, loads. Trust me, I never let anyone get away with it. If they want a fight, go to the boxing gym. They’re not doing that on my football pitch.”

And she says that refereeing three, four, sometimes five matches a week has taught her a lot about herself.

“It’s helped loads in my university life,” she says. “If you’re just chilling the whole time, man that’s boring. It’s good to stretch yourself, to test yourself. Decision-making, being strong: you learn so many values from being a ref. And what I love is, get it right, they trust you.”

Not that everyone is invariably convinced by the tiny woman in the head scarf. And for those who still treat her with scepticism, who still make it clear when she first turns up that she really does not belong in their game, she has a useful visual trick. “Sometimes I do kick-ups at half-time just to show them I’m not here by accident,” she says. “That usually opens their eyes. Mainly because I’m probably better than most of them at it.”

The Telegraph

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Looking back on my Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace | Mo Farah

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I recently had the honour of being knighted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. When I came to the UK from Somalia aged 8, not speaking any English, who would have thought that my running would eventually lead me here? This was another very special gold medal for me and I am so honoured to have received it. Here’s a little glimpse of how the day went for me.

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Somalia, Sudan pull out of CECAFA Cup in Kenya

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THE VANGUARD — Somalia and Sudan have pulled out of next month’s CECAFA Challenge Cup in Kenya, reducing the field to only 10 teams from the central, northern and southern African zones.

Organisers of the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) tournament said Somalia, which has been mired in internal conflict, was having difficulty getting a team together for the December 3-17 championships.

Three-time champions Sudan have asked to be left out of the competition because their national football league is still in progress. North African team Libya has been invited to take part for the first time as a guest team, alongside five-time Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA} champions, Zimbabwe. Libya have been drawn to play hosts Kenya in a tough Group A, alongside Rwanda, Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Defending champions Uganda have been drawn in the relatively easier Group B against Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Kenya are hosting the CECAFA Challenge Cup as a consolation after losing the right to stage the 2018 African Nations Championships due to concerns around the uncertain political situation in the country.

The CECAFA organisers hope the two-week tournament — to be played in the towns of Kisumu, Kakamega and Nakuru — might help unite Kenya after a drawn-out and divisive presidential election period.

The draw for the December 3-17 event is: Group A: Kenya, Libya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zanzibar Group B: Uganda (holders), Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe.

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Italy fails to qualify for 2018 World Cup after drawing with Sweden

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ITALY has missed out on qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after being held to a 0-0 draw by Sweden at the San Siro in Milan.

After suffering a shock 1-0 loss in the first leg in Sweden, the men in blue couldn’t find the back of the net on Tuesday no matter how hard they tried. The scoreless draw meant Sweden won 1-0 on aggregate and the Azzurri will now be watching the 2018 World Cup from afar.

Before the match the prospect of Italy missing out on football’s showpiece event was described as the “apocalypse”, and that apocalypse has now arrived.

Italian ‘apocalypse’ is real

Italy will be watching the 2018 World Cup from home after it drew 0-0 with Sweden in their do-or-die World Cup qualifier on Tuesday morning.

Heading into the clash with a 1-0 deficit after suffering a shock loss to the Swedes in the first leg of the two-match tie, the Azzurri were unable to find a breakthrough at the San Siro in Milan and will now miss their first World Cup since 1958.

“I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that, not because time passes,” Italian goalkeeper and captain Ginaluigi Buffon said.

“There is certainly a future for Italian football, as we have pride, ability, determination and after bad tumbles, we always find a way to get back on our feet.

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“I leave a squad of talent that will have their say, including Gigio Donnarumma and Mattia Perin. I want to give a hug to Chiello, Barza, Leo and Lele, who I had almost 10 years alongside. I thank the lads who were with us and, although it wasn’t enough, I hope that we gave them something.
“In football you win as a group, you lose as a group, you divide the credit and the blame. The coach is part of this entire group.”

It’s a crushing blow for a country that has won football’s most prestigious tournament four times. Despite finishing with 75 per cent of the possession after 90 minutes and taking 23 shots to Sweden’s four, luck deserted the home side and the scoreless draw crushed Italian hearts.

Italy enjoyed its fair share of luck as Sweden was denied what looked like two clear-cut penalties for handballs, first by Matteo Darmian and then Andrea Barzagli. Italy had a penalty appeal of its own waved off by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz when Marco Parolo was tripped from behind by Ludwig
The Azzurri struggled to carve out clear chances against a solid Sweden side, and tested goalkeeper Robin Olsen only once. Of its 23 shots, only six were on target. El Shaarawy’s powerful shot at the death was the best of the opportunities but Olsen was up to the task and parried it away.

The Brazilian-born Jorginho was handed his competitive debut by Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura, and the midfielder impressed with some deft passing. He created Italy’s best chances with two throughballs for Ciro Immobile, who hit the netting from a tight angle from one. Immbobile beat Olsen with another but Andreas Granqvist got back for a decisive goal-line clearance.

Alessandro Florenzi was also back following a year out after twice tearing a knee ligament, and the midfielder forced Olsen into a neat save, while a cross of his was also deflected onto the crossbar in the second half. Meanwhile, the highly rated Lorenzo Insigne surprisingly didn’t get onto the pitch at all.

Sweden has been a giant killer in qualifying as it surged towards a World Cup berth. It had already knocked out 2010 finalist The Netherlands before taking care of Italy on Tuesday.

The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

It would be easy to lay the blame squarely on Gian Piero Ventura. The Italy coach will naturally take the lion’s share of the responsibility but his side’s problems run much deeper, the rot starting long before he took charge.

After winning the World Cup in 2006 for a fourth time, Italy went out at the group stage of the next two editions. It has fared somewhat better at the European Championships, reaching the final in 2012 and going out in the quarterfinals in 2008 and 2016.

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