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Trailblazer: Palestine’s Heba Saadieh is creating history and more


There are dreams that even the reddest of cards can’t stop. No one knows this better than referee Heba Saadieh. The Palestinian celebrated her 34th birthday on January 3 this year, but she got the biggest gift of her life six days later when she found her name in FIFA’s list of referees for the Women’s World Cup that will be held in Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to August 20, 2023. It was history in the making; Saadieh will become the first Palestinian referee, either male or female, to officiate in a World Cup. 

Since her childhood, Heba Saadieh was passionate about sports and dreamt of representing her country in football. Born to Palestinian parents, Saadieh was a hard-working footballer who specialized in physical education at a university in Damascus, Syria. However, her hopes of playing for her country didn’t materialise and the former footballer turned to refereeing as a profession by chance.

“I was watching a group of referees training and noticed they had no women among them. When I asked them about it, they suggested I join them. So, I did,” she was quoted as saying in a February 2022 interview with the Palestine TV Sports and Youth channel.

But training and succeeding as a referee are two different things. And for Heba Saadieh, the road was tougher because she not only had to prove herself as a referee but also as a Palestinian woman where the game of football was just taking root. In fact, it was only in 2004 that the Palestinian women’s football team participated in a tournament for the first time, in Jordan along with 10 other Arab women’s teams. 

While the women’s game was slowly coming out of its cocoon in Palestine, Saadieh was charting her own course. She joined the football referees’ committee in Syria and began her career as a fourth official in Syrian league matches. 

However, the stint would be cut short after the war broke out in Syria. Saadieh was forced to leave the country and she travelled all the way to Malaysia in 2012. She joined the referees’ programme at the Football Association of Malaysia before moving to Stockholm. It was here that she pursued a FIFA referee license and started officiating in the division 1 league matches in the Swedish Football Association. 

With dedication, hard work, and an understanding of the sport, Saadieh soon climbed the ladder of success and received the international refereeing badge in 2016. “I didn’t know a word of Swedish when I moved to Stockholm. But I still understood everything and connected through football,” Saadieh was quoted as saying by

Heba Saadieh’s success was also a result of her commitment to the profession. There were no doubts about her talent but she had to acquire the right kinds of tools to hone and develop her skills. Take, for example, her fitness level. Saadieh worked with the Palestine Football Association (PFA) and Asian Football Confederation to improve her fitness. The PFA and AFC closely followed Saadieh’s training and provided FIFA with monthly reports to evaluate her performance. Saadieh worked hard and addressed all the observations submitted by FIFA to become a better referee.

Saadieh’s efforts bore fruit when she was asked to officiate in several AFC Cup games, FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers, and 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualification matches. And it was not only women’s football that Saadieh has officiated in. She became one of the first Arab women to function as a referee in the men’s under-21 Maurice Revelo tournament held in France in early 2022. She also took her bow at the 2022 AFC Asian Cup in India before officiating in the 2022 AFC Cup in Vietnam.

“I love it (my job). I am used to being fair and harsh as a referee. But I have to be fair but kind as well. In the long run, I hope to become one of the top referees,” she said.

Off the field, Heba Saadieh’s achievement has become a source of inspiration for Palestinian women across all fields. Following in Saadia’s footsteps, Yasmine Nairoukh from Hebron will be obtaining her international referee badge in early 2023. Many expect that Saadieh’s accomplishments will further open the door to the women of different races and religions to be a part of important things in the world!


Article Source: HTTPS://WWW.FIFA.COM