Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Female fans in Saudia Arabia were allowed to attend football matches for the first time on Friday.
Female football fans entered a stadium in Saudi Arabia’s western city of Jeddah on Friday, becoming the first women to attend a football match in the religiously conservative country.
Women wearing green and white scarves to represent their team colours lined up to enter the stadium, images posted by Saudi newspaper Okaz on Twitter showed.
Some 10,000 seats had been allocated for women and families in King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah for the domestic league match between al-Ahly and al-Baten — one of three games that Saudi authorities said women would be allowed to attend this month.
Photos showed women with children entering the stadium, where signs were posted to indicate an entrance for families.
Some videos circulating on social media just before the first match between Al-Ahly and Al-Baten took place, showed the stadium — which can seat 62,000 fans — largely empty.
“This is more than women’s right: today’s match between al-Ahly and Al-Baten 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!” wrote Fatimah Baeshen, the first female spokesperson at the Saudi embassy in Washington, on Twitter.
Veiled Saudi women were pictured taking selfies and smiling as the match started, while young girls were waving flags of their favourite teams with painted faces.
But some Saudi comments on Twitter showed that the move has angered some members of the conservative society.
“Whoever took the pictures of women should be arrested,” read one comment posted on Twitter under a picture showing women queuing at the stadium’s entrance.
Another comment read: “I swear to God that I am ashamed to stand next to a woman in such places.”
Women will also be allowed to attend a match on Saturday in the capital Riyadh and on January 18 in the eastern city of Dammam.
At least 1,200 tickets have been bought by women and families for Friday’s game, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported, citing a sales official.
“We expect the sales to rise in the hours ahead of the match,” said Adel Kabli, the operating manager of e-ticket vendor Makani.
Both teams sold female shirts at discount prices to attract women supporters, Saudi media reported.
Football is the number one sport in Saudi Arabia, where the national team qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In October, the Saudi General Sports Authority, a state agency, announced that three stadiums, up to now male-only facilities, would be prepared to be ready for families, including the allocation of special places for seating and entrances.
In September, King Salman bin Abdelaziz announced that women would be allowed to drive to take full effect June 2018, a move that sees the end to a long ban.
The powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have championed lifting the ban as he is seeking to open up the country and revamp its international image.