Saudi women at soccer matches make international headlines


Saudi Gazette report

Jeddah — Saudi women’s historic entry into Jeddah’s King Abdullah Stadium on Friday and Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium on Saturday to watch men’s soccer matches made international headlines.

In Saturday's match Al-Hilal drew 1-1 versus Al-Ittihad.

The Al-Hilal substitute player Mukhtar Fallatah scored the match’s first goal with a header on the 57th minute, while Al-Ittihad’s Kuwaiti player Fahd Al-Ansari scored the equalizer on the 63rd minute via a powerful kick from outside the penalty area when the ball changed its course after hitting one of the Hilal defenders.

“More than just an incremental step toward greater rights, the presence of women in the sports stadium underscored a wider effort to integrate women in society and grant them more public visibility,” wrote ABC News.

“Al-Ahli v Al-Batin match at Jeddah stadium makes history as first to allow women to sit in designated family stands,” wrote The Guardian.

“This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change,” Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, told the AFP news agency.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, said it was a “historic day in the Kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes.”

“The recent reforms are part of a gradual process of modernization under Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who is attempting to make the Kingdom more moderate,” wrote BBC.

Social media was also abuzz.

A hashtag, translated as “the people welcome the entry of women into stadiums”, was used tens of thousands of times in two hours as the match took place.

Some used the hashtag to share photos of female spectators wearing their team’s colors in scarves thrown over their abayas.

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 colors.

Al-Ittihad, one of the country’s top football clubs, playing in a derby game in front of mixed spectators on Saturday. It prepared for the historic match by tweeting an image featuring a woman’s face painted in gold, the club’s color. “Ittihad fans, male and female, are the support of this club, and success is not complete without them coming together to serve this historic entity,” the club tweeted. “With you, the scene is complete.”

The General Sports Authority announced in October that stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh will be set up to accommodate families starting in 2018.

“The plan for the country’s economic reinvention rests on a number of pillars, including youth empowerment, social organization and women’s empowerment. The Kingdom wants to increase participation of women in the Saudi labor market and other aspects of life,” wrote CNN.

On Thursday, Jeddah held Saudi Arabia’s first car exhibition aimed at women, a few months after the Kingdom announced it would grant them the right to drive.

The exhibition, focusing on fuel-efficient cars, featured a team of saleswomen to help their new customer base. The showroom carried signs emblazoned with the slogan “Drive and Shop”, a play on words in Arabic, using the female form of the verbs.