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The Moroccan referee who has overcome cultural barriers and gender stereotypes to make history at AFCON 2023

Moroccan referee, Bouchra Karboubi, officiating the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations match between Nigeria and Guinea Bissau. Photo Courtesy: CAF

While there has been an increase in the number of female referees at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), only Moroccan Bouchra Karboubi has so far taken to the pitch as a centre referee.

Joel Omotto, bird story agency

Bouchra Karboubi is blazing a trail through the beautiful game.

While there has been a laudable increase in the number of female referees at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) following the appointment of six women, only one has been given the mandate to officiate as a centre referee, with the rest working as either assistant referees or Video Assistant Referees (VAR).

That honour was bestowed on Morocco's Karboubi, who became the second woman, and first Arab woman, to officiate a men’s AFCON match. She followed in the footsteps of Rwanda’s Salima Mkansaga, who made history at the 2021 tournament.

Karboubi is not new to this stage, however, having made her AFCON debut in Cameroon two years ago when she worked as a VAR.

However, being the centre of attention was a whole different experience when Karboubi led an all-female crew, a first at the tournament, that included assistant referees Diana Chikotesha of Zambia and Cameroon’s Carine Atezambong to officiate the AFCON 2023 match between Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau, on January 25.

“Refereeing this match was an honour for me,” said Karboubi. “During the last AFCON, I was the first woman to do VAR, I was in the final and on this AFCON, I am a centre referee. I was proud to represent African women and to represent refereeing in Africa.”

She added: “When I found out, the emotion was enormous. I was happy, I'm not saying there was no stress, but the stress stops as soon as we kick off. So, it was a pride for me to represent African women in general.”

As a woman refereeing a men’s game, Karboubi knew she had to have a flawless performance just to prove that women can do it at this level.

“The Guinea-Bissau – Nigeria match was a serious challenge for me,” she admitted. “We had to show that we are here, the first women’s referee trio. So, we had no room for error because we did our best to live up to the trust that CAF placed in us.”

“We were very happy, especially with the three women, for being able to show that we can be there and that we can have the same competitiveness as the men. It wasn't easy but we were able to show that we can be there and that we can do it,” said the match official, whose career is filled with firsts.

Karboubi became the first Arab referee to officiate at the Women’s World Cup last year when she took charge of the match between defending champions the United States of America and Vietnam.

In 2022, the police inspector became the first female referee to officiate the final match of Morocco’s Throne Cup, having set a personal milestone two years earlier, when she became the first female referee to oversee a match in Morocco's top-tier professional football league, the Botola Pro 1.

Karboubi would have been at the other end of refereeing decisions had things turned out the way she initially hoped. Growing up, she wanted to be a footballer but had to abandon that dream as there was no organised women's football in her country at the time.

The 36-year-old would find solace in officiating, but it was not easy when she started out. Her conservative community initially could not fathom her interest in sports.

Her brothers tore up her refereeing flags to discourage her from the sport because it was ‘shameful for a girl to wear shorts and stand on the same pitch with men’ and it was not until her father watched her officiate a men’s game in 2007 that he started to support the career she chose.

“I will tell young girls who have a passion, who have a goal, to work, to never give up because each path has its own challenges, and we must not give up. We must continue and with the grace of God, we can get where we want to go,” said Karboubi.

When she is not applying the rules on the football pitch, the mother of one is enforcing them back home, where she works as a police inspector. She is based in Meknes, a city in northern Morocco.

"Being a policewoman for me, means applying justice," she said in a separate interview with the BBC. "As a referee, it's me who applies the law and it's a win-win because it's a job and it's my passion and they are linked to each other."

"Refereeing helped me a lot as an athlete to be a good police officer, and being a police officer helped me have a strong personality on the field as a referee,” Karboubi explained how the two roles complement each other.

She is also adamant that she has a place in the home.

"It's true that at work, I’m a police officer and on the field, I'm a referee. But at home, I am a woman, I am the woman of the house and the mother of a daughter," she said.

bird story agency

1 Comment

Steele Nickle
Steele Nickle
Apr 24

As a woman refereeing a men’s game, Karboubi knew she had to have a flawless performance just to prove that women can do it at this level. snow rider 3d

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