Saudi women allowed into football matches for the first time

Women will be allowed to attend sporting events in Saudi Arabia from Friday, in one of the first concrete measures aimed at relaxing the kingdom's strict social restrictions to take effect.

On Thursday 18 January, Al-Ittifaq will be taking on Al-Faisali at the Prince Mohamed Bin Fahd Stadium in the eastern city of Dammam, where women are also welcome to attend.

Women will be allowed to watch a football match for the first time today at the Jeddah Pearl Stadium, which has allocated special seats for women and families.

Head of the Saudi Federation for Sports Media, Raja Al-Sulami, detailed the preparations undertaken to ready the stadiums for female fans.

"We expect the sales to rise in the hours ahead of the match", said Adel Kabli, the operating manager of e-ticket vendor Makani.

Football is the number one sport in Saudi Arabia, where the national team qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russian Federation. To prepare for the change at sports stadiums, the kingdom has designated "family sections" in the stands for women, separated by barriers from the male-only crowd.

The announcement that women would be granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia was made in September a year ago by King Salman.

The Islamic kingdom has announced a series of reforms initiated by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since a year ago.

Lina Al-Maeena, a member of Saudi Arabia's formal advisory body the Shura Council, and director of the country's first women-only basketball team, told Arab News "It's a historic game, the first in which Saudi families can enter a stadium together". The move comes on the heels of continued work in the country with regards to women's rights.

Previously women could watch matches on television only. Most are Saudi nationals.

Currently, all drivers employed by the two firms are male but following the ground-breaking royal decree that announced plans to lift the ban on women driving last September, both companies have been on a female recruitment drive.

  • Joey Payne