Women in Saudi Arabia attend football matches for first time

Women showed up to their first public sporting event in Saudi Arabia after new reforms

Women showed up to their first public sporting event in Saudi Arabia after new reforms

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.

"Honestly this decision should have happened a long time ago", said Muneera al-Ghamdi, an attendee.

The new measure which started Friday comes after Riyadh announced it was lifting a ban prohibiting them from driving, as well as reopening cinemas. "I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change", she told AFP. The women however had to enter through designated turnstiles for women and families.

The initiative to allow women into stadiums is part of the government's Vision 2030 program, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and aimed at giving more freedom to women.

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Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, said Friday was a "historic day in the kingdom which culminates [in] ongoing fundamental changes".

Previously, women caught inside a stadium were arrested.

Under his guidance, some aspects of the kingdom's guardianship system - which has aligned the country with a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, and under which a woman must have a male companion with her in public at all times - have become more relaxed.

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 global image.

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Saleh al-Ziadi brought his three daughters to the game.

Jeddah resident Noura Bakharji was among those who patiently waited for her turn, and for a reason. On Saturday, the national stadium in the capital, Riyadh, will open its gates for women to attend a soccer game.

"I always watched games on TV while my brothers went to the stadiums..."

"Today, things have changed". The "family section" is for female soccer fans and women accompanied by male family members. "I'm rooting for the ladies - enjoy!" A 5-0 defeat for Al-Batin - and a victory for women in Saudi Arabia.

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