Sara Gamal has a history of accomplishing great things, and she’s ready to create Olympic history as an Egyptian civil engineer and basketball player-turned-referee.
She will be the first Muslim woman to referee basketball at the Games while wearing a hijab.
Not only that, but the type of basketball she’s officiating is debuting in Tokyo in July.
3×3 basketball is regarded to be the most popular urban team sport in the world, having evolved from the game known as Streetball, Blacktop, or Playground Ball, which is played in parks and recreation areas all over the world.
3×3 is believed to be played in 182 countries by over 430,000 players worldwide. Sara will also be the first Arab and African woman to officiate at an Olympic 3×3 basketball game.
‘I’m giving it my all.’
Sara describes going to the Olympics as a “dream come true.”
Because of the pandemic, it was unclear whether the Games would take place at all.
“We were quite concerned about whether it would happen or not, but it has finally happened.”
Sara says her entire family is brimming with pride. But she understands that such a huge achievement comes with a lot of pressure.
“When you represent not just yourself, but also [both Africa and the Arab world], it’s a great duty. It is difficult, but I want to be a good representative for them, therefore I am giving it my all “.
“Every time I believe I’ve accomplished something significant, Allah surprises me and provides me with a new chance that is even more significant,” she says.
“I was picked to oversee a semi-final game in the Egyptian men’s league last season. That was an accomplishment in and of itself.”
Sara added to her list of successes this season by officiating the men’s final of the Egypt Cup and the men’s final of the Basketball Africa League.
Walking two roads
Sara’s route to the Olympics has been long, despite her recent accomplishments.
It all started when she was a little girl, watching her older sister play basketball and going to training sessions with her. Sara began playing when she was five years old, and by the age of fifteen, she was a referee.
Sara was a player and a referee for eight years. One of her hardest problems, she adds, was deciding to stop playing and focus on officiating.
“When you’re the first in this, it’s not simple; you have to be brave to do it.”
“However, if you believe in something, you must also think that it will work out if you make a move.”
Sara is accustomed to juggling a variety of responsibilities at the same time. She works as an engineer and went to school for five years while following her basketball goals.
“I had the support of my family who taught me how to balance my time between the two roads,” she says.
Her coworkers are now among the many who are rooting for her.
“They watch my games, and they will, of course, cheer me on at the Olympics.”
Allah is guiding us.
Sara believes that her religion kept her grounded throughout it all.
“I think that if I give it my all in all I do, the best will return to me.” You must make do with what you have. Then say, ‘I did my best,’ and trust God to guide you on your journey.”
That’s the one she consults before every game.
“I pray and ask God to let this be a fantastic game or tournament.”
That same religion informs what she wears on the court. Following a rule change in 2017, Sara became the first FIBA referee to wear a hijab at an international level.
Sara claims that the response has been entirely positive.
“Some players have even complimented me on my clothing,” she says. “It’s good for me that I’ve paved the way for more female referees to follow their hearts and pursue their aspirations.”
Young female referees in her own country frequently write to her, claiming they “had no opportunity of being in huge tournaments or travelling all over the world,” according to her.
“I tell them you’re better than I am.” You can achieve all of your objectives from any location. You have the ability to make it happen.
“It’s a great honour for them to be able to consider their future as referees and see that if they work hard enough, they can reach their goals.”
That is the message she wants young Muslim girls around the world to take away from her accomplishment as they watch her on the court in Tokyo.
“Put your concentration on being the greatest and setting a high goal for yourself, and you’ll be able to do anything. I feel that we, as women, possess magical abilities. We are quite powerful.”