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Saudi Arabia stadiums welcome female football fans for first time

RIYADH: Female fans were allowed to attend football matches for the first time on Friday. The first match that women will be attending is the Al-Ahli versus Al-Batin on Friday Jan. 12. It said women would also be able to attend a second match on the following day and a third one on January 18.

Women from across the vast Gulf kingdom may be able to take advantage of this new freedom as the first match will be held in the capital Riyadh, the second in Jeddah on the Red Sea and the third in the eastern city of Dammam.
The move is Saudi Arabia’s first social reform planned for this year granting women greater rights.

To prepare for the change, the kingdom has designated “family sections” in the stands for women, separated by barriers from the male-only crowd. The stadiums have also been fitted with female prayer areas, restrooms and smoking areas, as well as separate entrances and parking lots for female spectators.

The General Sports Authority is preparing the surrounding squares in the King Abdullah Sports City (Al-Jawhara) with food trucks and a number of sporting and social events to create a distinctive social environment before the matches. A host of events taking place whilst families enter the King Abdullah Sports City stadium.

The game was scheduled to kick off at 8:00pm, but enthusiasm for the historic encounter began well before the kick-off.

Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, said 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 told AFP.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, called Friday a “historic day in the kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes.” I am proud and extremely happy for this development,” she said.

Noura Bakharji, another Jeddah resident, said she always felt bitter when her brothers came back 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?'” she told AFP. “Today, things have changed. It’s a day of happiness and joy.” Hours before the game, Saudi clubs were encouraging women to attend through tweets on social media.

Some clubs are offering special abayas — traditional head-to-toe robes for Saudi women — in team colours. State-owned Saudi Airlines announced prizes of free tickets for five families who want to travel between cities to watch games.

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