For the first time in Saudi history, female soccer fans were able to attend a match at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, marking the first time that a major sporting event has been open to women in that country. In September 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that in January 2018, females would be granted entrance into sports arenas, being allowed to attend live soccer games. The Kings Abdullah Sports City Stadium is now open to female spectators alongside two other arenas located in Dammam and Riyadh, the country’s capital.
The stadium in Jeddah boasts a “family” entrance with women working at the gates to welcome families into the arena. Females who attended the January match had access to a pray area, a café and a female medical facility.
Previously, women in Saudi Arabia were only permitted to watch soccer games broadcast on television from their own homes. Many of them attempted to sneak into stadiums, hoping for a chance to see their favourite teams play live, only to be arrested right away for breaking the societal laws.
Attending a soccer match is not the only revolutionary step Saudi Arabia will be taking this year. It has been announced that starting this June, women will be allowed to drive. This news put excitement into the hearts of many across the globe. To encourage females to get behind the wheel, the country’s first car showroom, targeted towards females, opened the same day as the big Jeddah game.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is attempting to slowly modernize current laws and views of Saudi Arabia. As with any political decision, he is facing some opposition from those who believe that these new laws will corrupt the Islamic identity. Aseel Bashraheel, a Jeddah-based journalist praises the progress being made in the kingdom and is eager to see what the future holds for its women, understanding that revolution will not happen all at once:
“There were those who welcomed the decision and expressed their eagerness to attend a family-oriented [soccer] match. And then there were others who believed the decision goes against Saudi’s culture and tradition…Society is changing in Saudi Arabia…there’s always room for more change.”
Despite the progress being made to promote gender equality, females in Saudi Arabia are still unable to participate in the following without the permission of a man: apply for a passport, get married, open a bank account and travel abroad.
In 2016, the nation was ranked 141st out of 144 countries in the world for gender parity on the World Economic Forum’s Index. With Salman’s proposed gender reform, citizens are hoping to see that number drop as women gain more agency.