Jordan woman referee aspires to FIBA presence

Ilham Khazneh on the bumpy road to making history, and the way ahead

Ilham Khazneh, center back, is seen while refereeing a match in the basketball premier league last year. (Photo by Amjad Al-Tawil)
AMMAN — Ilham Khazneh made national basketball history in 2020, after becoming the first woman to referee in the men’s premier league.

Last month, Khazneh, 30, fulfilled all the requirements towards becoming an internationally licensed referee after completing an online assessment on the rules and regulations of the game. She has also gone through the rigorous physical fitness assessments organized by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

“I have recently completed the requirements of an international license. The accreditation will be issued by FIBA in either June or September; depending on the international tournaments calendar,” Khazneh told Jordan News in an interview.

She added: “Nominations for international referee badges are done according to lists. Each country has a set number of seats and Jordan happened to be on the whitelist this year, which I was nominated under, despite it being allocated for men.”

“Due to current circumstances, this requirement was waived, and I competed with one of my male colleagues for the international badge nomination, where I eventually won,” Khazneh explained.

Khazneh holds a bachelor’s in sports rehabilitation from the Hashemite University and a master’s in sports education from the University of Jordan.

Speaking on the experience of officiating her first men’s game, which brought Al-Ahli and Orthodox clubs face to face in the seventh round of the Kumho Premier League in December last year.

“I felt anxious and happy all at once and fully aware of the great responsibility to live up to all the support I had received, but there are particular and major challenges when it comes to dealing with the sizes of players and keeping up with their speed,” Khazneh said.

“Financial difficulties were the only obstacle I faced at the beginning, apart from taboo culture. I could not secure the cost of commuting to games at times because of the late disbursement of wages.”

Khazneh had to work at Adidas, then at gyms, before completing her studies and being nominated for a lecturer position at Al-Zaytoona University, where she currently works.

“My family stood by me and came with me to some of the games held at night, which required long commutes. Had it not been for their continuous support, I would not have made it this far,” Khazneh said.

Despite not having played sports professionally, preferring to call it a hobby, Khazneh said “I was in constant turmoil between deciding to go forward in sport, which I love, and following my parent’s wishes to study nursing at a private university.”   

“I am aiming for a PhD in sport and aspire to represent Jordan at Arab and international events and championships. I also hope to get the proper chance to officiate women’s world-cup basketball games,” Khazneh said.

In a message to young women and girls, she said: “Determination paves the way to achieve the impossible, and I would also like to stress the importance of time management.”

The referee called on official bodies to support the march of women in sports.

 “Women in sports need official support to carry forward in this journey, especially since their achievements represent Jordan, and with that I would like to thank the Jordanian Basketball Federation (JBF) for its continuous support for women and athletes.”

Speaking on Khazneh’s achievements thus far, Nabil Abu Atta, secretary general of the JBF, said that “Ilham Khazneh, after a 12-year wait, managed to overcome the monopoly men have had over refereeing the premier basketball league, proving that Jordanian women can handle such a responsibility and stand toe to toe with men.”

“Ms. Khazneh has undergone immense pressure and she is now a role model for ambitious women. Today, she is refereeing in the first Saudi women’s basketball league and we, at the federation, will spare neither the means nor the effort to support her and ensure that she receives the international badge, to become the first Jordanian woman to win this honor,” Abu Atta told Jordan News.
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