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Saudi Arabia

A win on the pitch, and in the stands as women enter Saudi stadium after ban lifted

Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their team’s match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. (AFP)
JEDDAH: A historic Friday evening at King Abdullah Sports City stadium saw Jeddah-based football club Al-Ahli host Al-Batin in a Saudi Pro League meeting.
While the game itself was entertaining, it was always going to be eclipsed by the monumental occasion of it being the first match in Saudi football history in which women were allowed in the stands.
The stadium — also known as “Al-Jawhara,” or “The Jewel” — is the largest football stadium in Jeddah with a maximum capacity of over 62,000.
It was certainly a fitting venue to host female fans on the reserved fifth-tier stadium level overlooking the pitch. Facilities included air-conditioned prayer rooms, concession stands, restrooms, and even designated play areas for children. It was all managed by female stadium staff and volunteers.
The vibrant and cheerful emotions resonated throughout the night as passionate and empowered female fans cheered and took part in the buzzing atmosphere that a football match brings.
Sara J., a recent Saudi graduate from Northeastern University, said: “This is wonderful for us Saudi women, and I am sure there is more to come. A diverse and inclusive society will only serve as the base to positive progression for Vision 2030.”
She was referring to the ambitious reform program underway in the Kingdom, in which a boost to entertainment facilities and the greater involvement of women in the economy are key parts.
During half-time, local Al-Ahli supporter Rayan K., explained how he always hoped this day would come.
“Our whole family supports Al-Ittihad, except me and my sister who support Al-Ahli,” he said. “We always try to watch the games together. I always feel bad leaving to watch some games in the stadium knowing that she can’t experience this special atmosphere. I always said ‘one day’ and now this is that day. It makes me so happy and proud that she can finally experience the excitement and drama of watching these games first hand.”
Even the most focused male fan would be hard-pressed not to notice the genuine glee that erupted from women in the crowd when Muhannad Assiri opened the scoring for Al-Ahli in only the second minute of play, catching the Al-Batin defenders on their heels.
Another Saudi woman who attended the game gave her thoughts as the night drew to a close. Lana N., a fitness instructor based in Jeddah, had nothing but praise for the inclusion of granting women access to stadiums: “This was my first football match that I’ve ever attended, and it has been such a fun experience! I’ll always remember tonight. I salute our government for granting us these rights, and I can’t wait to attend again next week!”
The match concluded with Al-Ahli crushing Al-Batin 5-0, but the real winners were the women in the stands. Large number of women showed up proudly, were enthusiastic in their support, and were thoroughly entertained. Tonight was their night.

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