Mumbai’s hijab-clad Black-belt granny officiates s Karate Referee

Hangzhou Asiad: Mumbai’s hijab-clad Black-belt granny & National champ named ‘Officiating Referee’ for Karate


By Quaid Najmi

Mumbai, Sep 26: The hijab-clad Karate maestro Shaheen Akhtar, 52, barely looks what she is — a 4-time National Champion in Karate, chopping her way surgically in all top events worldwide, is now appointed the first and only woman ‘Officiating Referee’ at the ongoing 19th Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in China.

Packing up her bags to serve as the International Technical Official or Officiating Referee, Shaheen is a smiling but simple granny whose daughter Sana Hava and son Ayaan Ansari are also National Champions in Karate.

She learned her first Karate kicks, stances, punches, blocks and chops aged 13 while a schoolgirl at the Christ Church School, Byculla, excelled while studying for her B.Com degree from H.R. College, Churchgate and loved it enough to make it a full-fledged professional career as a ‘karateka’.

Over four decades since, she has punched her way from Youth League to Premier League to South Asian Championships to Asian Championships to Commonwealth Championships to World Championship events globally, earning medals and honours for her discipline and laurels for the nation, both as a participant and as a referee.

“In Hangzhou, I shall be the Officiating Referee for all events of Karate at the men’s and women’s events scheduled between October 5-7, with top champions participating from 42 Asian countries… It’s a very crucial responsibility,” said Shaheen softly, in a chat with IANS.

Discussing her upcoming challenges as Officiating Referee, Shaheen said that “handling pressure” will be the most critical part of her assignment — when over two billion pairs of eyes from all over Asia will scrutinise her every move and decision.

“All countries are coming there and vying for the medals… Besides the top-class champions from all countries in the ring, there will be top games experts from different countries, sports officials, VIPs, judges and viewers in the stadium and at their homes… Any wrong decision on my part can lead to havoc right inside the stadium,” Shaheen added.

Inside the ring, when the medal-hungry champions from different competing nations would be lunging at each other, the experience will be another trial even for Shaheen, herself an established and acclaimed figure in the sport.

“My job will be to control these rivals in the ring, command them to obey and adhere to the rules of the games, if they falter then there are levels of warnings, penalties, etc. to rein them in… And all under the watchful eyes of many,” Shaheen smiled.

Only on rare occasions, the moderator ‘Kansa’ (Match Supervisor) intervenes and also equally rarely the ‘third umpire’ or the video review supervisor, mainly while appealing for points is resorted to, she explained patiently, without clenching her deadly fists or flailing her arms.

In her new role, the former 4-time National Champion, 6-time Maharashtra Champion, a 8th Degree Black-Belt holder, Shaheen is also the highest and most qualified World Karate Federation and Asian Karate Federation female Referee in the country and in South Asia.

Now, Shaheen is passing on the baton to the gen-next through SAMA (Shaheen’s Academy of Martial Arts) affiliated to Karate India Organisation, and striving to groom future state-national-international champions and referees.

“I hope my long journey inspires the younger generations to take up Karate as a serious and viable career option… India has tremendous untapped potential and there could be many young champs waiting in the wings to grab their moment of glory given the right opportunity…I am always here to help anybody,” Shaheen declared.