‘A lifetime experience,’ say Saudi women flocking Jeddah stadium

Kingdom is fifth nation to host Italian Super Cup outside Italy


JEDDAH — The King Abdullah Sports City (KASC) stadium reverberated with loud cheers from men and women at the gallery on Wednesday as Italy’s Juventus and AC Milan turned in a nail-biting contest, with the former winning its eighth Super Cup Crown with the winning goal scored by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 61st minute.

Without the need of men to accompany them, thousands of women thronged KASC on Wednesday for the match, brushing off a controversy over entry restrictions.

With painted faces and banners, female football fans entered the stadium here through designated turnstiles for "families", solo women, or with their family.

Women at a football stadium in Saudi Arabia is not a new phenomenon, especially in this stadium that opened its doors to women fans last year to watch a football match between Al Ahli and Al Batin thus becoming the first sport stadium in the country to welcome women.

Nevertheless, thousands of women fans cheering their team at an international football match in a Saudi stadium were a new sight. An estimated 62,000 people attended the game, with more than 15,000 women among the crowd, either alone or accompanied by men.

Italian football league president Gaetano Micciche hailed the turnout as a success. Micciche said, “The presence of women in the stadium would go down in history as the first international competition that Saudi women were allowed to watch in a stadium.”

The claimed restriction that women can't enter the stadium alone had sparked in Italy, once the Super Cup was announced to take place in Saudi Arabia.

"This was a moment I’ll always remember in my life,” said Aida, 20, who gave one name and who attended the match with her two sisters. "As an avid football fan, this moment has a great significance in my life as well as in the lives of my sisters.”

For Akila Al Hammadi, 19, "What can be better than watching Ronaldo scoring a goal on Saudi soil?”

Other women echoed similar feelings, many of them through their expression of joy and elation at being able to finally see international football on their home turf.

''It was my first time at a football match in my country. I was upset that I couldn't see my favorite local team Al-Hilal play in Riyadh last year even though women were allowed into stadiums for the first time,” said Ameera Al Gandeel, a Saudi single mother of three.

"Luckily, I had a business meeting in Jeddah on Wednesday and my daughter badly wanted to see Ronaldo and I managed to take her along. Seeing my daughter’s excitement made me recall my childhood days in the 1990s. I never had the privilege of setting foot into the stadium and cheer alongside male fans.”

Saudi Arabia is the fifth nation to host the Italian Super Cup outside of Italy. Thanks to Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s road map for the future has entrusted the work of nation-building equally to men and women, by promising to create equal opportunity for both in the job market and in society.

Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority, the organizer, awarded Juventus the 2019 Italian Super Cup on Wednesday at the stadium.

The sports authority signed an agreement with the Italian Football Federation in June 2018 as part of a plan by of authority to promote sports in the Kingdom in line with the objectives of Vision 2030. — Agencies