By Harsha Amarasinghe
Aaqil Jamaldeen, who has been one of the most promising young referees in Sri Lanka, was certified as a World Rugby Level 3 match official recently. The former Royalist believes that his hard work, commitment and dedication helped him become only the second active referee in Sri Lanka with that level 3 certification.
Aaqil, the brother of former Kandy fly-half Arshad and son of former referee Nizam, also revealed that his rugby background was a factor in him taking up refereeing.
Question: You recently became a Level 3 referee which is a very rare feat. What does it mean for you to receive that certification?
Answer: I am not the only referee who is certified as a Level 3 match official. To my knowledge there were a few senior referees who were accredited earlier as World Rugby Level 3 match officials, but from the active referees Priyantha Gunaratne and myself are the only two who possess this certificate. It’s another achievement which I believe I have received for my hard work, commitment and dedication in my refereeing career.
Q: Obviously being a referee in a sport like rugby can be a very difficult task. Tell us your story, of becoming a top referee in Sri Lanka.
A: After playing rugby at Royal College, I wanted to focus more on my higher education. Therefore, I started to follow a Degree in Accountancy. During my higher education, I watched my brother playing club rugby, and as I come from a rugby background it was really hard for me to give up on this game. For the love of the sport I took up refereeing. It was not a decision made by anyone, it was a decision taken purely by me. It is very challenging, but if you love what you are doing, you will eventually find yourself a way to achieve your goals, not only in rugby, but also in life.
Q: Your father is considered one of the finest referees Sri Lanka ever had. How did he help you during your career?
A: Yes, I’ve heard that my father was one of the top referees we had in Sri Lanka, but since he is very busy with his work I rarely get the opportunity to speak to him regarding rugby refereeing. However, in the little time he has, he gives me a few tips through the experience he gained in Sri Lanka and overseas. I often take advice from my referee coaches, senior referees and my fellow overseas referees after reviewing each game and learning day by day to be the best I can be.
Q: You have already officiated in some international tournaments. How has that experience benefited your career and what are the future international tournaments that you are due to officiate?
A: I had the opportunity to officiate my debut test rugby game between Qatar and Jordan in 2018. This was quite a different experience as I got the opportunity to share my knowledge among referees from different parts of Asia. Due to my performance during the club and school season, the Sri Lanka Society of Rugby Football Referees sent me to England, Durham on an exchange programme with Durham Rugby Referees to gain more exposure in Refereeing. During this tour, I officiated club and school games in England which helped me to enhance my knowledge and experience with Northern Hemisphere Referees. When it comes to 7’s, I am currently in the Asia Rugby 7’s Panel.
Q: What has been the most unforgettable memory is your career?
A: I have had plenty of unforgettable memories. Out of this the most cherishing moments was when I heard that I have been selected to the Asia Rugby Referees Panel in 2018.
Q: Is there any decision that you made on the field as a referee, which you wish you could change?
A: I don’t believe that I have any. However, as a referee, I may have made some errors but those things you learn from and they have bought me to where I am today.
Q: Although Sri Lanka rugby is still to make it big at the international level, the country has some famous rivalries in both school and club level. Is there any particular fixture that puts some pressure on you as a referee even before the kick-off purely because of the rivalry between the two teams?
A: I consider all games as very important. Whether it is a game between lower division or Hong Kong versus Japan, I will stick to my own process and continue to do the same to all the games.
Q: We have had some unfortunate incidents in the past where certain match officials were assaulted after the matches. What do you have to say about this?
A: It is very sad. This is not good for this great sport. Hope all will understand the untiring efforts put in by Referees. If there are issues, it’s best to solve them in a more professional way rather than going to assault referees which I believe is unnecessary.
Q: While refereeing on the field itself is such a difficult task, most of the match officials come under heavy criticism from teams, fans and even media, off the field. How do you handle that?
A: It’s quite obvious that certain people have their own opinions. Criticism happens not only in Sri Lanka, but all over the world. These things are not within my control. I will continue to develop myself with the things which I am in control of and I will be continuing to stick to my own process. This cannot be done overnight. It takes time for a referee to learn and develop from the mistakes they have made.
Q: Having reached a unique feat as referee at such a young age, what sort of targets you have set yourself moving forward?
A: My short-term plan is to work myself to be in the Asian 7’s Series Circuit and my dream is to be a part of the World Sevens Series Panel and Referee the Hong Kong 7’s.
Photo courtesy: Papare.com