Saudi Arabian women attended their first live football match this evening after strict rules banning females from sporting arenas were relaxed.
Around 300 women, accompanied by male relatives, attended the Pearl Stadium in Jeddah – less than 24 hours after the first female-only car showroom opened in the Red Sea city.
Areej al-Ghamdi, who was among the women in the stadium said: ‘I came with my father and my brother — we’re fans of Al-Ahli.’
Some 300 female supporters of Al-Ahli football club in Jeddah were the first women to attend a football match in the Kingdom tonight following a relaxation of strict rules
The women attended the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018
A section of the stadium in Jeddah was set aside for women and their families
The young woman said she always used to cheer her home team from the comfort of her living room.
She said: ‘We love the club very much, and our home would often become an arena for supporter. This is the first time we’ll be cheering for real, not just in front of the television. It is so much better here.’
The women entered the stadium through a special gate, while male supporters filed in through a separate entrance.
Saudi Arabia, which has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, has long barred them from sports arenas through strict rules that keep the sexes apart in public.
Women and men had to enter the stadium using different entrances
Glass panels were set up to separate men supporters from the women and family section of the stadium.
Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old said: ‘This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change.’
Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, spoke of 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.
The family section was separated from the main crowd by a glass partition
The Saudi regime has begun to slowly liberalise even announcing women drivers
Many of the women at the game said they were forced to follow football on television before
Saleh al-Ziadi brought his three daughters to the game.
‘My daughters still don’t believe this is happening. They have not yet realised they will be cheering their favourite team inside the stadium,’ he said.
The women entering the venue waited in long queues to be searched by women security personnel who wore orange vests over their black abayas, while inside the stadium another team directed them to their seats.
Jeddah resident Noura Bakharji was among those who patiently waited for her turn, and for a reason.
Bakharji said she always felt bitter when her brothers came home 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?”
‘Today, things have changed. It’s a day of happiness and joy.’
Women attending the game require the permission of a male relative under Saudi law
Unfortunately for the women attending the game, the home side lost 5-0
The historic game took place at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, pictured
Under Saudi Arabia’s existing guardianship system, a male family member – normally the father, husband or brother – must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and a host of other activities.
Fatimah Baeshen, spokeswoman at the Saudi embassy in Washington ‘rooted for the ladies’ in a message on Twitter.
‘As we speak; Saudi women fans are entering soccer stadiums! This is more than women’s rights: today’s match between Al-Ahli and Al-Batin, and the ones to follow, are opportunities for families to come together and enjoy KSA’s national sport — soccer! I’m rooting for the ladies — enjoy!’ Baeshen tweeted.
Friday’s match was the first in a series that will be open to women: a second is due to take place on Saturday and a third on January 18.
And in June, as part of a reforms drive led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, authorities are lifting a ban that prohibited Saudi women from driving.