Saudi opens stadiums for women to watch soccer, a first

Image source VICE

Earlier on Friday, ahead of the football game, there was another small sign of change: the country's first vehicle showroom dedicated to female customers was opened.

The Saudi government allowed women to observe the game with other family members at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium, Al Arabiya local news reported on Friday.

Powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have championed lifting the ban as he is seeking to open up the country and revamp its worldwide image.

The game began at 8pm (1am today, Malaysian time), but two hours before the historic kick-off, enthusiasm was palpable as women supporters began arriving at the stadium.

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Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, spoke of a "historic day in the kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes".

Most restaurants and cafes have two sections, one for just men and one for families, which are for women and their husbands and families. "I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change", she said. "They have not yet realised they will be cheering their favourite team inside the stadium", he said.

Friday's match was played between Al-Ahli F.C. and Al-Batin F.C.

"I am proud and extremely happy for this development and for the kingdom's moves to catch up with civilised measures adopted by many countries", she said. "When you give women the chance to share attending game with men, this first of all reinforces allowing women to participate in matches, and secondly gives support to the team and the players, so that everyone, the whole community, shares the games with them", said Faisal bin Sibhan, an attendee.

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Noura Bakharji, another Jeddah resident, said she always felt bitter when her brothers came back from stadiums to tell her about the excitement of watching football matches in person.

Live from Saudi Arabia's sports pride, The Shining Jewel stadium, over 4,000 fans coming in with their families packed the arena, sources told Asharq Al Awsat.

Some clubs are offering special abayas - traditional head-to-toe robes for Saudi women - in team colours. "But thank god that it came in the right time, and hopefully what's to come will be even more attractive for women". Fatimah Baeshen wrote on Twitter.

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