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Saudi female football fans crack glass ceiling
January 13, 2018
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Jeddah: Saudi Arabia allowed women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match on Friday, as the kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes.

The match between Saudi Premier League clubs Al Ahli and Al Batin in the Red Sea city of Jeddah saw women in their hordes applauding their footballing heroes as they followed the match from the stands.

The venue of the match, the Jeddah Pearl Stadium, had allocated special seats for women and families.

The new measure came after Riyadh announced it was lifting a ban prohibiting them from driving as well as reopening cinemas.

The Islamic kingdom has announced a series of reforms initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman since last year.

The easing of social controls comes as Prince Mohammed looks to repackage the oil-rich nation as more moderate and welcoming and is part of the powerful crown prince’s “Vision 2030” programme.

Enthusiasm for the historic encounter began well before the referee’s whistle was blown as could be gauged from reactions from women fans who thronged the venue. Before the match Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old soccer fan from Jeddah, said she was proud and looking forward to attending the match.

“This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change,” she said.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, described the match as a “historic day in the kingdom which culminates ongoing fundamental changes”.

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

Happiness abounds

In September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in the capital Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to attend celebrations marking Saudi Arabia’s national day.

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.

“I always watched games on TV while my brothers went to the stadiums... I asked myself repeatedly ‘Why I can’t go?’” she asked.

“Today, things have changed. It’s a day of happiness and joy.”

Hours before the game, Saudi clubs were seen encouraging women to go to the stadiums through tweets on social media.

While some clubs offered special abayas — traditional head-to-toe robes for Saudi women — in their team’s colours, state-owned Saudi Airlines announced prizes of free tickets for five families who wish to travel between cities to watch football games.

Agence France-Presse

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