Published: Sun, January 14, 2018
World | By Melba Underwood

Saudi Arabia's Football Stadium Welcomes Women For First Time

Saudi Arabia's Football Stadium Welcomes Women For First Time

For the first time in history, Saudi Arabia allowed women to spectate a local football match, which took place in the city of Jeddah.

The match was hosted at King Abdullah Sports City stadium and featured Al Ahli against Al Batin in the Saudi Pro-League.

The ban on women was lifted thanks to liberal social reforms initiated by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

To prepare for the change, the kingdom designated so-called "family sections" in the stands for women, separated by barriers from the male-only crowds.

At the stadium in Jeddah, female ushers were employed to greet the women fans and their families, who loudly cheered on the local team.

The Saudi government said last week women would be allowed to attend a second match on Saturday and a third next Thursday.

But even segregated as they were, their presence in the stadium marked a significant moment for the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, has long barred them from sports arenas through strict rules that keep the sexes apart in public.

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"A lot of people wanted to wait and see how it is. I feel very proud because I am witness to this change". "Some thought it wouldn't be very safe or organised", said Swick, who attended the game with her Saudi husband and son, and her American mother.

An Arabic hashtag on Twitter about women entering stadiums garnered tens of thousands of tweets on Friday, with some using the hashtag to share photos of female spectators wearing their team's colours in scarves thrown over their black abayas.

While many supported and welcomed the decision to allow women into stadiums, others spoke out against it.

The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious project to modernise the Saudi society and boost its economy.

Despite the breakthrough, there are still a host of basic human rights denied to women without the permission of a man, including applying for a passport, travelling overseas, and getting married.

Saudi authorities announced on October 30, lifting the ban on women entering sports stadiums, allowing them to attend events in three stadiums as of 2018.

Both clubs also reportedly offered shirts at discount prices to attract female fans.

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