| 1. Tell me about your background.
My name is Aseel Al Shaheen. I have two sons. I’ve loved sports since I was very young. I was a swimmer and a swim coach since 1993 until I unexpectedly got involved in tennis. I had never played tennis before, but I was always interested in it. I was planning to take classes for umpiring and coaching, and I ended up taking diving sessions and tennis. I became more interested in tennis because I dreamt of learning tennis when I was in college but I didn’t get the chance. My mum didn’t like the idea because I would have had to stay till late hours in college because the tennis season was intense and required many hours of training. There were so many matches, even during the holidays, so it always kept you busy. When I finally did get involved in tennis it was at a time in my life when I needed to be busy. I was suffering from a failing marriage and my kids were away from me. Moreover, seeing young kids playing and competing, doing something good and valuable with their time, motivated me and made my happy, and so I got addicted to it.
| 2. What challenges did you face as an umpire?
In 2002, after taking some courses and training, I became a tennis umpire. That is when the challenges started because I was the only female amongst all the guys. I was the only Kuwaiti female and the support was always for the men only. They were sent to be umpires at international matches. It wasn’t until I stood up for myself and asked to be chosen to go because I was doing my job well and I was up for the challenge. I also spoke English better than my male colleagues. They finally sent me in 2011 to the School of International White Badges to become an international chair umpire. With the blessing of God, I was able to get my badge from the first try Ever since then, I have participated as a tennis umpire all over the world. I went to China, England, Korea, an all over the Gulf. In fact, I am now the only female GCC citizen umpire!
| 3. What was your favorite place from the countries you traveled to?
China. There was a lot of culture and many seasons. The people are super protective there because they don’t know much about us. So it was nice breaking the ice by letting them know more about us.
| 4. How did you get to Wimbledon?
I have been applying to Wimbledon ever since I started tennis. I kept on applying but you have to have a record. Here I would love to thank Ashraf Hamooda, the head of Referee in Qatar. He always supported us. This guy gave us the chance because if you apply to any tournament without a record they will not consider you. He gave us the opportunity to do some matches in Doha. There was a guy called Abdelsalam Abdelraoof who had a bronze badge and always participated internationally. When we applied, he was our reference and he rated our performance. (The chief of umpires has a record of all umpires. As long as you are on court, you are evaluated by the chief of umpires, the team captain and the chair umpire. All of that is recorded and shared by the worldwide chief of umpires.) In 2014, I was finally selected for the qualifying draw. In 2015, I got a call from Wimbledon telling me I was selected for the main draw. My first question was, “even with my hijab?” He was surprised by my question, but you know the Wimbledon umpire uniform is very strict. I went to the size manager and asked her what about my hijab? She told me to wear a navy one and that’s it. It was surprising to people because they were not used to it, but I found a lot of support from my international colleagues.
| 5. How did you feel representing your religion and your country?
I was so proud. I was shocked at first but after that I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be on time and accurate to represent my country well. I didn’t want to disappoint all the people that trusted me. I didn’t want to disappoint myself and my country. It’s double the stress.
| 6. Were you the first Hijabi to be in Wimbledon?
Yes, I was. Alhamdulah, I never had a problem with hijab. Never felt that I look different because I’m wearing it. I’ve been to England several times and I’ve never felt like a stranger. Maybe one of the reasons they accepted me in Wimbledon was that there are a lot of hijabies in England, from different origins, Arabs and none Arabs, born there or visiting. I was representing their local citizens as well.
| 7. Were you the first Arab woman?
As far as I know, yes, but when we were in the qualifying, there was another Egyptian lady with a bronze badge. Both of us were accepted for the qualifying 2014-2015 but I didn’t meet her until later in the main draw.
| 8. Do you feel there is a shortage in women in this field?
Recently there have been more girls. We have a Yemeni and a Tunisian umpire. We are trying to invite more women, honestly, but they are not interested that much in such things. When you work a part time job, you do it either because it pays well, or to socialize, or it’s just something you enjoy doing. Tennis used to be in a better place and was more attractive, but these days it’s going backward in Kuwait. When you go to a tennis match, you only know when it will start; you never know when it will finish. so you can’t plan your day well. Sometimes you finish in half an hour, sometimes you finish after four hours. For example, yesterday I finished in 30 min. And I remember once I sat down at the umpire chair at 5:00 pm and when I stood up it was already 9:15. So it’s hard for females, especially ones with kids and responsibilities. Another thing is that the pay is not worth the pain, especially in the beginning phases. So there is no motivation. For me, the kids and the challenge are what kept me going.
| 9. What advice do you have for other Muslim/Hijabi females wanting to do what you do?
I don’t see that hijab is an obstacle now. It’s not blocking anybody from doing anything. Nowadays, hijabis are breaking records internationally. I just believe that we create our obstacles in our minds. Don’t block yourself. If you have the motivation and the right intention to do something go for it.
| 10. What advice do you have for girls interested in tennis?
As an umpire I see that tennis is a game that doesn’t mess with your feminine side and has a lot of respect. I advise them to try it and be open to the opportunities and chances.