Women in Saudi Arabia allowed to attend soccer match for first time

The notorious driving ban on women was lifted in September 2017, and this week Saudi Arabia will host its first ever women's squash tournament.

In the soccer-obsessed but ultraconservative Islamic kingdom, the match between the local teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin in Jeddah, was the first time that women were allowed to attend a game at a public stadium, a new step in the government's efforts to loosen gender restrictions.

But these rules have begun to change under King Salman, who became the Saudi monarch in 2015, and are driven by his son, Mohammed bin Salman (32), the country's crown prince.

The stadium has designated "family section" for the women spectators in the stands where they were allowed to observe the game with other family members, also an attempt to separate them from single men.

Ahead of the game on Friday, clubs took to Twitter to encourage women to attend, with some even offering the traditional abaya robe in team colours. Saudi women for the first time are allowed to enter a sports stadium to watch a soccer match.

"Honestly, this decision should have happened a long time ago", said Ms Muneera al-Ghamdi, an attendee.

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Social media Football is very popular in Saudi Arabia, with many fans of global and local leagues, but female enthusiasts long had to content themselves with watching their favourite teams on television. "I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change".

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, said Friday was a "historic day in the kingdom which culminates [in] ongoing fundamental changes". "But thank god that it came in the right time, and hopefully what's to come will be even more attractive for women".

And the result of yesterday's game?

The women entered the King Abdullah Stadium through a special gate, with female security guards wearing orange vests searching the visitors at the entrance.

Saudi Arabia still has a long ways to go in terms of boosting women's empowerment, but progress, no matter how slow it comes, is progress.

  • Adam Floyd