Women’s World Cup: Heba Saadieh will be tournament's first-ever Palestinian referee

Women’s World Cup: Heba Saadieh will be tournament's first-ever Palestinian referee
Heba Saadieh, who has trained across continents to become a referee, will be the first Palestinian ever to officiate at a World Cup tournament.
2 min read
19 July, 2023
Heba Saadieh (second from left) obtained her international refereeing badge in 2016 [Salah Malkawi/Getty]

Heba Saadieh will make history as the first Palestinian to referee at a World Cup when she takes to the pitch for the women's iteration of the football tournament beginning this week.

The 34-year-old will take to the pitch at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand from 20 July.

"I’m so proud to be the first-ever Palestinian referee, male or female, in the World Cup," Saadieh told Al Jazeera.

"That makes me feel a responsibility to show a very good performance during the tournament. And I hope I can open this door for others, for Palestinian women referees – and men also – to be selected in the future."

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Saadieh was born to Palestinian parents but grew up in Syria, a country home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, specialised in physical education while studying at Damascus University.

She began her refereeing career in Syria, where she joined the football referees’ committee and became a fourth official in Syrian league matches until the war there forced her to flee for Malaysia in 2012.

There, she joined the national football association's referee programme before moving to the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

Saadieh pursued a FIFA referee license and started refereeing in the third-level Division 1 matches in the Swedish Football Association, obtaining the international refereeing badge in 2016.

She has since officiated for international tournaments, including the Asian Football Confederation Cup, Olympics qualification matches, and Women's World Cup qualifiers.

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Though the 2023 Women's World Cup is the biggest yet, Arab representation at the tournament remains scant, with Morocco the only team from the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Atlas Lionesses are the first Arab team to ever have ever made it to the women's iteration of the tournament.

Women's football teams from the MENA region have not been playing internationally for long. For example, the Palestinian women’s football team first participated in an international tournament in 2004.