Jawahir Jewels

Week 186 (6 – 12 May)

Jawahir Jewels’ promising career as a football referee is breaking down stereotypes and communicating the importance of self-confidence and inclusivity in sport. Standing at 5 ft 3, female, black and Muslim, The Telegraph described her as the “most remarkable referee in the England.”

In the past few decades football has been at the forefront of tackling issues of racial, religious and gender discrimination in sport. Whilst significant strides have been made, there remains work to be done. Football needs trailblazers now more than ever to help abolish any existing forms of intolerance.

Raised in North West London by her Somali parents, 23-year-old “JJ” had her first taste of refereeing whilst undertaking an FA coaching course. Despite initially only taking charge of junior games, she quickly realised that refereeing required considerable self-belief, composure and a thick skin. Discussing her early years as a referee in an excellent Telegraph interview, JJ recalls: “My dad said to me from when I started: be careful, there’ll be haters out there… 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 a referee in amateur men’s football, JJ’s appearance has often put her at a disadvantage before a ball has even been kicked. In spite of this, JJ takes a refreshingly light-hearted tone, stating: “I love it… 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?’”

Each time she steps onto the field, JJ sends a message of defiance to every intolerant person in football, to every person who does not believe she is capable of handling the situation. But JJ is more than capable, and her doubters do not phase her: “I say to them: ‘Excuse me, don’t judge me till you’ve seen me in action’…I do know how to play football and yes I do know the offside rule. Which is more than most of them.”

JJ recently refereed a match organised by Football Beyond Borders, an excellent education charity that uses the power of football to inspire young people. The match included ex-Premier League players Leon Cort and Jamie Lawrence. Cort spoke highly of JJ: “First half I didn’t really notice her, which is kind of what you want of a ref… Second half got a bit tougher, more competitive, harder for her. But she’s learning. She done well.”

Despite her obvious competence, there are a small minority who choose to ignore her ability as a referee and attack her race, gender or religion. Unfortunately, this minority would understandably turn others away from the game – after all, why should they have to put up with the abuse? However, JJ is determined to overcome those who try to drag her down and make it to the top of the game. She is currently studying for the FA’s Level Six referee qualification and dreams one day of refereeing in the Women’s Premier League.

Confident, resilient and ambitious - the “most remarkable football referee” is an inspiration for all minorities in sport.

Photo: Paul Grover