Dreams of refereeing in the Hong Kong Sevens | Daily News
Aaqil Jamaldeen – Youngest official to blow in Bradby:

Dreams of refereeing in the Hong Kong Sevens

Aaqil Jamaldeen never thought of refereeing after he quit playing rugby.
Aaqil Jamaldeen never thought of refereeing after he quit playing rugby.

Refereeing in rugby can be an arduous task especially in the modern era when there are many armchair critics and spectators baying for your blood at the slightest mistake. Gone are the days when it was considered to err human and it is forgotten. In the era of video assistants and with television cameras zooming in, there is no chance for error by officials even though players may get away with it. Not only does the referee have to act like a traffic policeman in the field of play keeping a sharp eye on infringements and being on his toes while at the same time ensuring smooth flow of the game. So it is beyond comprehension when someone says rugby refereeing is fun especially when you are in charge of the whistle for a high-profile game such as the Bradby.

Aaqil Jamaldeen will go down in history as the youngest to officiate in the Bradby Shield series between Royal and Trinity when he calls play in the first leg of the 75th encounter at Pallekelle today. A former Royal inside back, the 24-year-old has the pedigree and enthusiasm to do a fair job with the whistle.

“I will continue to do the same as I did in the past and consider this as just another game,” said Aaqil in an interview with the Daily News when asked whether he felt any kind of pressure when called upon to referee a game of this magnitude.

“Not exactly. It’s kind of fun,” said young Aaqil with an innocent smile almost oblivious to the fact that the referee will come under the microscope just as much as the players on the field by thousands on the ground and millions watching on Livestream around the world.

Asked again whether he felt nervous, he said: “I don’t consider like that. I take it as a challenge to do the right thing.”

Rugby refereeing seems to be a labour of love for Sri Lanka’s youngest referee and arguably the best in the country.

“When you watch (rugby) on TV it is totally different. When you go onto the field, it is totally exciting. I prefer going onto the field rather watching on TV,” said Aaqil who decided to become a referee after watching his brother Arshad playing club rugby for Kandy SC. After representing Royal as a scrum-half for two seasons (2013 and 2014), he hung up his boots to focus on studies, becoming an auditor at KPMG.

“I never thought of refereeing. My brother was playing for Kandy and I was watching him play. I was in the pavilion and watching the game. I got excited to do something for rugby. I thought of coaching but it is a full-time commitment. Then I thought, what if I go for refereeing,” recalled Aaqil who did not get the green light from his father Nizam Jamaldeen at first.

“I asked my father but he said ‘no way’. I asked him a few more times and his response was no. At the end, he said ‘If anything happens, don’t put blame on your father’. I said okay,” related Aaqil on how he embarked on a career as a referee despite opposition from his father, also a leading referee in the country and President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Referees Society.

Aaqil shrugged off the pressure of comparisons with his more illustrious father saying, “I don’t consider that. I just do what is right.”

He started refereeing in 2015 and the first game ‘A’ Division school games he blew was St. Anthony’s vs Vidyartha in May 2017. His career took off thereafter rising up the ranks to become an ‘A’ grade referee in Sri Lanka within a span of four years completing his Level II certification and went to Singapore to qualify as a Level III referee which is still pending.

2018 was a momentous year for Aaqil who achieved a high of refereeing at the Asian Games in Jakarta in addition to officiating at the Asian Sevens Series (both men and women), Asia Rugby Sevens Under 18 Girls in India, Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy in Singapore and West Asia Division III in Qatar in March this year.

“My dream is to referee at the Hong Kong Sevens,” said Aaqil who prefers blowing at Sevens than 15-a-side games.

“Sevens is much faster than XVs. I like fast-paced games,” said Aaqil without concealing his fascination for Sevens rugby.

“Although I get scolded to not watch the HSBC World Sevens Series, I prefer watching it. Basically, it has been an addiction. I never missed watching a single tournament I guess for the year 2018/19,” said Aaqil who finds keeping fit also fun by playing with friends and challenging them during training.

Asked whether he had any unpleasant experiences as a referee, he said the only occasion was when doubts were raised when he was assigned to officiate the inter-school match between St. Joseph and St. Peters in June last year.

“Last year there was a problem when they said I am not capable to referee the Joe-Pete match. Everyone said they have to bring a foreign referee. At the end I got the opportunity. I did well and everybody was happy at the end,” he said.

Asked what message he would like to give players and spectators, he said: “The main thing is they have to learn how to enjoy the game. I have seen in other countries they are enjoying pretty well. Even if they lose or win, players from the losing side respect the winning side and vice versa. In Sri Lanka, we are lacking in that. Spectators have to enjoy the game rather than going with the intention of seeing their team win the game at any cost and getting emotional.”

Wise words indeed from a young referee who enjoys the onerous task of policing a game firmly and fairly.

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