Celebrated on March 8th every year, International Women’s Day is a global event dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women from all walks of life.
In The Gambia, top female referee, Isatou Touray, is breaking down barriers in what has always been a man’s sport in the country.
Born in Banjul, Isatou’s passion for refereeing started at an early age while playing for her school and local football teams. Now 33, Isatou has risen to the top of her field at both the local and international levels, but her road wasn’t all rosy.
Along the way, she fought discrimination and stereotypes in a community where it was rare to see a woman taking up refereeing as a career. “When I started, people in my community were saying it wasn’t going to work out for me,” she tells The Chronicle. “All they were telling me was to stay at home because refereeing was a man’s game.”
Isatou’s family members tried to stop her, but she pushed her way to achieve her dreams.
Today, she is not only accepted in her community, but she’s also a national star. In 2013, she debuted in a Nawettan match in Brikama as an assistant referee.
“I was very nervous on that day,” she recalls. “Each time I looked at the crowd I felt anxious. It wasn’t easy for me, but I managed to have a good game.”
Isatou went on to attend a refereeing course for beginners thanks to her colleagues. “Experienced referees like Alagie Faye helped me a lot in shaping my career. I’ve had good sessions with him. He taught me to be patience and how to handle game tension.”
Despite her passion for refereeing, Isatou admits her gender was an issue. She tells The Chronicle that she had to work harder than her male counterparts to be considered a professional referee. “Women are as capable as men, but we are just not given the same opportunities. So for a woman to stand out in this field you need to work extra hard.”
In 2015, Isatou bagged her FIFA badge, scaling through a series of trials many men failed. “It wasn’t easy to pass that test; I had to be fit and fast,” she says.
Despite her credentials, Isatou says some coaches in the national league frown when they realize she’ll officiate their games. She also complains about players often trying to intimidate her. “I exercise my authority and show them who is in charge.”
So far, Isatou has officiated more than six games across the continent, including a Women’s African Cup of Nations qualifier between Nigeria and South in 2018. She also officiated the 2020 WAFU Women’s Zone A football final in Makeni, Sierra Leone.