Ashwaq Al Khoury Image Credit: Supplied

Jakarta: The Jakarta Convention Centre Hall wore a bridal look. Brand new mats, freshly painted walls and flags of various countries meticulously hung around from the ceiling.

It’s the 18th Asian Games but there is an uncanny silence in here and the arena is clearly filled with apprehensions and everyone around is keen to make sure the debut of a mixed-martial art sport — jiu-jitsu is up to date.

A group of volunteers very much new to the sport are going through their rehearsals on how to go about with the medals ceremony.

The officials were also trying to get their acts right as the arena was all ready to witness the debut of jiu-jitsu at the major sporting spectacle.

Standing in a corner watching every move closely is 21-year-old Ashwaq Al Khoury — the first Emirati women referee from the Arab region to be officiating at 18th Asian Games.

Anxiety is writ wide on her face, she had not officiated at any level in the sport and has been thrown into a huge challenge, straight away.

Her major plus being she was still pursing the sport and competing in the blue belt category. Until six months ago, Ashwaq had no intention for learning the traits of refereeing until she came across an open invitation for women for a referee workshop.

“It was free so I thought I should try it out as it would help me to know more about the nitty-gritties of the sport. Being an athlete, we know the points but there is more to it and I want to learn that,” recalls Ashwaq adding that they were a batch of 10 girls and had classes once a week for six months.

“I was the only girl picked up from that lot to officiate for the Asian Games and so it is really special,” says Ashwaq, who acknowledges that she had trouble making her family understand that that girls can take up refereeing as a profession.

“At first, they were skeptical but they were very supportive. Slowly they have realised that refereeing is serious business and now when they see my photo in papers they say ‘Oh you are here’ and are very happy,” laughs Ashwaq, who started practicing the sport when she was eight.

“I do take part in competitions regularly and try to be among the medals as well. I will be taking part in the LA Grand Slam next and want to keep improving,” reveals Ashwaq, who hailed the support she got from other referees in making sure everything went smooth.

“There were a lot of butterflies in my stomach from the time I landed here. And of course being the first time, errors were bound to happen but there were other referees to correct. It is a huge learning curve for me. I think it will inspire other Emirati women also to take up refereeing,” said Ashwaq before taking her referees chair ahead of another outing.