Saudi women score a first by attending football match

Fans at a match between local football teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin in Jeddah last Friday. This was the first time women were allowed to attend a public sporting event in Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: NYTIMES

JEDDAH • When a football game began in Saudi Arabia last Friday, a new noise joined the ruckus in the stands: the sound of women cheering.

Women in black abayas and fluorescent orange vests stood at the gates of King Abdullah Stadium, welcoming people into the family section that, for the first time in Saudi Arabia, was seeing women attend a men's football match.

As the two teams, Al-Ahli and Al-Batin, faced each other in the city of Jeddah, women showed up to their first public sporting event in the kingdom to support the sides with their spouses, children and friends. Glass panels were set up to separate men supporters from the women and family section of the stadium.

The General Sports Authority had announced in October that stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh would be readied to accommodate families starting this year.

"Honestly, this decision should have happened a long time ago," said Ms Muneera al-Ghamdi, an attendee. "But thank God that it came at the right time, and hopefully what's to come will be even more beautiful for women."

The decision to allow women to attend a mixed public sporting event is one of many changes the country has undergone in recent months, hailed as proof of a new progressive trend in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

Last Friday's match was the first in a series that will be open to women: A second was due to take place yesterday, and a third on Thursday.

And in June, as part of a reforms drive led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the authorities are lifting a ban that prohibits Saudi women from driving.

The Crown Prince, 32, has been hailed as the face of these changes.

Many young Saudis regard his ascent to power as proof their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old, and blocked women's progress.

The result of last Friday's game? A 5-0 defeat for Al-Batin - and a victory for women in Saudi Arabia.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline 'Saudi women score a first by attending football match'. Print Edition | Subscribe