Middle East

New Sound at Saudi Soccer Game: Women Cheering From the Stands

These efforts are part of broader reforms he is leading to restructure the Saudi economy away from its dependence on oil, temper the kingdom’s religious rhetoric and provide new employment and entertainment options for the kingdom’s large youth population, including women.

The decision to allow women to attend soccer games — albeit in “family sections” that keep them separate from the all-male sections — is part of these efforts. It also seeks to get Saudi families to spend more of their money on entertainment at home instead of going abroad to have fun.

A former Saudi sports journalist shared a photo of female ushers preparing to greet the female fans and their families.

Women cheered as an announcer read the names of the players:

Soccer is very popular in Saudi Arabia, with many fans of international and local leagues, but female enthusiasts long had to content themselves with watching their favorite teams on television.

Photo

Female fans of the team Al-Ahli lined up at a separate entrance in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. Women were allowed to attend the public event for the first time.

Credit
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Many women excited about the new ability to watch live games — as well as men opposed to this — took to social media on Friday, writing under the Arabic hash tags #FamiliesEnteringStadiums and #ThePeopleWelcomeWomenEnteringStadiums.

“I do not see that letting women enter stadiums is wrong or forbidden,” one user, Manayer al-Qahtani, wrote on Twitter. “To the contrary, it does not go against religion nor against the customs and traditions. Many girls follow soccer and we gather at game time. It is a legal right for us, especially if there are special places for families.”

But some people used the hashtag to criticize the event, writing that the place of women is in their homes, focusing on their children and preserving their faith, and not at a stadium where male crowds may curse and get rowdy.

The kingdom’s stadium had not been built with women in mind, so modifications were made so that they could attend matches. The government’s General Sports Authority said this week that three stadiums had so far been modified to accommodate women through the addition of private sections for women and their male relatives, female bathrooms and even prayer areas.

Although only 20 riyals ($5.33) a ticket, the family section for Friday’s match was less than half full. A photo shared on social media showed signs designating a smoking area for “ladies.” But anticipation for the game was high on social media. People began sharing photos of female fans preparing to enter the stadium.

It was a far cry from 2015, when a Saudi woman who tried to attend a soccer game in Jidda was arrested after she was spotted by security officers wearing pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses to avoid detection, local news outlets reported.

Women will also attend a game on Saturday in the national stadium in the capital, Riyadh, as well as a game on Thursday in the city of Dammam.

On Friday, Al-Ahli trounced Al-Batin 5-0 in the Premier League match, according to the Saudi Gazette.

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