Saudi women and girls queued outside football stadiums on Friday to watch their first live soccer matches after the kingdom lifted a ban on them attending.
However, they will still be separated from the male crowd in designated ‘family sections’ which include separate entrances, parking lots, prayer rooms, restrooms and smoking areas.
The move is part of Saudi Arabia’s drive to grant women greater rights, with women being allowed to drive from June for the first time.
Dozens of Saudi women and girls queued outside the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Friday to watch their first live game of soccer
Until now females were banned from attending sports matches under strict morality laws, but these have been loosened under new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
While many have welcomed the decision, others have spoken out against it. An Arabic hashtag on Twitter about women entering stadiums had more than 50,000 tweets by mid-day.
Many used the hashtag to write that women’s place should be in the home, focusing on their children and preserving their faith, and not out at a stadium where male crowds frequently curse and chant raucously.
Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is King Salman’s son and heir, is seen as the driving force behind these changes.
But the women will still be separated from the men in new ‘family sections’ with their own parking lots and entrances
He is set to inherit a country where more than half the population is under 25 years-old and hungry for change.
Rather than grant citizens greater political rights, the crown prince has instead looked to boost his popularity by curbing the influence of ultraconservatives.
His reforms are also aimed in part at raising local spending on entertainment as the country faces years of budget deficit amid continued lower oil prices.
The first stadium to open its doors to women was in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for a match between Saudi soccer teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin on Friday evening.
The national stadium in the capital, Riyadh, will open to women a day later, on Saturday, followed by the western city of Dammam next Thursday.
These stadiums were built with hundreds of millions of dollars when oil prices were nearly double what they are now.
The government spent lavishly on the stadiums in an effort to appease young Saudis and provide spaces for fans eager to cheer on local clubs, as well as hold national parades and ceremonies.
Young boys and girls supporting team Al-Ahli receive wristbands outside the stadium
A young girl has her face painted by a female steward outside the football stadium
The historic game took place at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, pictured
Unfortunately for the women attending the game, the home side lost 5-0
In a one-off, the main stadium in Riyadh allowed families to enter and watch National Day festivities in September – marking the first time women had set foot inside.
A Saudi woman who tried to attend a soccer game in Jiddah in 2015 was arrested.
Police said at the time that security spotted her at the stadium ‘deliberately disguised’ in pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses to avoid detection.
Over the years, though, there have been some exceptions for foreign women.
In 2015, an Australian female supporter of Western Sydney Wanderers soccer club was permitted to attend a match at Riyadh’s stadium and a group of Americans traveling with members of U.S. Congress watched a local club match, also in Riyadh.
Women attending the game require the permission of a male relative under Saudi law
Many of the women at the game said they were forced to follow football on television before
The Saudi regime has begun to slowly liberalise even announcing women drivers
The family section was separated from the main crowd by a glass partition