Fatma Al-Tattan Fatma Al-Tattan

Fatma Al-Tattan, a trainer and founder of a women's gym, is no ordinary woman. Known by a legion of young football players in Kuwait simply as Fatma, she is also a professional referee. Since the age of three, she has been playing football on the streets of Kuwait with her siblings, or sometimes with friends in the backyard of her house. Her passion, usually a preserve of men, has been her regular job for six years now. "Football is something in my inner being - football makes me happy and complete," said Fatma.

Fatma recounted to Kuwait Times how she became a referee. "Six years ago, the ministry of youth and sports affairs advertised for female coaches and referees. I wasted no time and jumped at the chance, and applied to be a referee," she said. "It wasn't easy, because I had to take a few courses and exams. I know football by heart, so there's no way that I could've ignored it," she said.

She obtained three certificates before she was allowed on the field. "I have three certificates from the ministry of youth. It was easy for me, but challenging for others. I enjoyed the courses and completed them all. I then got the nod from the ministry," Fatma said. Today, she is well-known to many young Kuwaiti players. She even hears her name from strangers, who follow her car, and is greeted in public by people and young boys she once refereed. "I'm like a celebrity for them. Sometimes, their big brothers come to me, greet me and tell me: So you're the famous Fatma, the referee!" she said.

Prior to accepting the refereeing job, Fatma worked as a marketing executive in a private company. "I knew I would be happier here. I know my heart is in this job. This has been my hobby, but now it's my job. It's like I am playing every day, but I am being paid to do it," she noted.

The job is seasonal, but she gets a regular salary. Most of her refereeing duties take place during winter and Ramadan. She oversees matches of kids aged 8 to 14. Fatma said young boys are more manageable if they are handled by a female referee. "They are more respectful when they are overseen by women. At the ministry, we only have five certified women referees. They know I am very strict, so they behave well until the game is over," Fatma told Kuwait Times.

Fatma said the attitude of people in Kuwait has changed with regards to female footballers and referees. "The government's attitude has changed actually. They wouldn't have accepted me as a referee if there was no change in attitude. Some people are not ready yet, but eventually it will happen. They are now ready to change, and hopefully will accept women footballers and referees without any prejudice," she said.

Fatma also founded a private gym called 'U Can' with a friend in Salmiya. The gym is equipped with all kinds of equipment and amenities, but no men are allowed. "The place is a haven for women, so we do not accept men in our gym. Women need privacy, and this place is really very private. What we provide is private training. We schedule women for hour-long workouts plus food management sessions. We also have many local female celebrities' here, and the good thing is that our clientele is rapidly growing. In fact, within just a year of existence, expansion is now underway," she concluded.

By Ben Garcia