Women refs up for the challenge in M-League

Nurul Ain Izatty Zainal is looking forward to creating history when she, “elder sister” Nur Akmal Anuar and Rita Gani become the first females to referee in the M-League this season.

The 22-year-old, who took up refereeing when she was only 14, says Rita, who was named Best Women’s Referee in Asia in 2014, is her idol, while Nur Akmal, who is 10 years older, was the one who encouraged her to become an official.

Of the trio, Rita has years of experience officiating matches, including at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Rita and assistant referee Nur Akmal will be involved in the Super League and Premier League matches while Nurul Ain will referee in the President’s Cup and Youth Cup matches.

“I’m so excited to be among the first female officials in the men’s league and doubly excited as Rita and Nur Akmal will also be officials,” said Nurul Ain, who got her start in officiating thanks to Negri Sembilan FA referee committee chairman Hanif Abdul Rahman.

“Rita is very disciplined and smart and always strives to achieve something extra in the game.

“Like me, she is small in stature but Rita is a giant on the field.

“I was very happy when she was named Best Woman’s Referee in Asia in 2014. Hopefully, I can emulate her one day.”

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Nurul Ain said she is also proud of Nur Akmal who is a FIFA-accredited assistant referee and hopes to join her and Rita when she reaches 25 – the minimum age for officials as set by FIFA.

She also thanked the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) for placing its trust in the three of them.

“It is a great honour and challenge for us. We have to be prepared mentally and physically as this is the biggest league in the country,” said Nurul Ain, who is accredited by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

“I’ve been working very hard on my fitness and can’t wait for the season to start.

“I would also like to thank my parents as they sacrificed time and money so I could build my career and get me where I am today.”

There have long been calls for female referees to be included in the men’s game and it is good FAM has finally decided to heed the message.

Several top men’s leagues in the world have female officials, including the English Premier League, whose first women official was Sian Massey-Ellis.

Her first Premier League appointment was on Dec 28, 2010, as an assistant in Blackpool’s 2–0 away win at Sunderland and she has been a permanent fixture ever since.

She was even awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the 2017 New Year’s Honours list for services to football.

This weekend, Massey-Ellis will be the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for the Leicester vs Manchester City match while she is the assistant referee for the Wolves-Norwich game.

Leicester, which has lost its way in recent times, will look to close the gap on second-placed City. The gap stands at four points now.

The other big match this weekend will see a faltering Chelsea hosting Tottenham with a place in next season’s Champions League still up for grabs.

EPL fixtures (Malaysian time)

Chelsea vs Tottenham (8.30pm)
Crystal Palace vs Newcastle (11pm)
Burnley vs Bournemouth (11pm)
Sheffield United vs Brighton (11pm)
Southampton vs Aston Villa (11pm)

Leicester vs Manchester City (1.30am)
Wolves vs Norwich (10pm)
Manchester United vs Watford (10pm)

Arsenal vs Everton (12.30am)

Liverpool vs West Ham (4am)