After Nouhaila Benzina, Moroccan first female football player to wear hijab at the World Cup, Heba Saadieh etches her name in history as the first Palestinian female referee to officiate at the World Cup taking place in New Zealand and Australia this year.
34-year-old Heba Saadieh grew up in Syria with a Palestinian heritage and upbringing. While she was studying sports education, she noticed the absence of women training to become referees, so she decided to delve into that realm of work. Because of the war in Syria, she moved to Malaysia in 2012 where she began her career as a referee while being a sports teacher in parallel. She and her family then moved to Sweden in 2016 where she was a referee of the top Swedish women’s football league and the Men’s second league. That is when she attained her FIFA referee license.
Having overseen international tournaments such as the Asian Football Confederation Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics she is ascending to the position of a prominent football referee especially after this year’s world tournament. It is safe to say that her presence this year truly symbolizes and pays homage to Palestinian heritage on this global stage. To further connect with her Palestinian roots, Saadieh visited for the first time her homeland after receiving an invitation from the Palestinian Football Association.
Heba Saadieh’s achievements and story serve as a further catalyst, widening opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds, especially for Palestinian, North African, Middle Eastern and Arab women in this case, to increasingly integrate and engage in the world of sports. The presence and voices of women in sports are becoming more flagrant and relevant. This significant milestone is a long-awaited step forward!
If you are interested in keeping up with this year’s World Cup, note that it will continue until the 20th of August.