It was a historic day, as women in Saudi Arabia attended a football match for the first time, as part of reforms spearheaded by the kingdom’s crown prince.
Three Saudi Arabian stadiums – the King Abdullah Stadium, the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, and Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam – have been outfitted with special family sections for women to sit during matches.
Female football fans wearing scarves and waving flags took their seats at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah for Al-Ahli’s match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. The women however had to enter through designated turnstiles for women and families.
Female Fans of Jeddah’s al-Ahli Football Club wore green scarves over their black abayas during the match against the eastern province team of al-Batin.
Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old from Jeddah, told Agence France-Press she was proud and looking forward to 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, said Friday was a “historic day in the kingdom which culminates [in] ongoing fundamental changes”.
“I am proud and extremely happy for this development and for the kingdom’s moves to catch up with civilised measures adopted by many countries,” she said before the scheduled 8pm (5pm GMT) kick-off.
The Saudi government said last week women would be allowed to attend a second match on Saturday and a third next Thursday. The rest of the country’s football grounds will be ready for female fans by the beginning of the next sporting season. Stadiums will also have separate cafes and prayer rooms for women.
Al-Ittihad, one of the country’s top football clubs, is scheduled to play 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 colour.
“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 move to open up stadiums to women for the first time was announced last October.
“The general sports authority has provided everything that would create an attractive sports environment for families and provide everything needed to ensure their privacy,” the country’s sports governing body said in a statement.
Construction teams had scrambled to build female toilets and line off a women-only parking lot ahead of the game. An all-female team of stewards helped steer them to their seats.
Around 7,500 seats in the 62,000-seat King Abdullah Stadium were made available to women and families, according to Saudi sports authorities.
According to the Saudi Gazette, Al-Ahli trounced Al-Batin 5-0 in the Premier League match.