Saudi Arabia women score right to watch men's football in stadiums

Female Saudi supporters of Al Ahli queue at an entrance for families and women at the King Abdullah Sports City

Female Saudi supporters of Al Ahli queue at an entrance for families and women at the King Abdullah Sports City

The soccer match Friday between local teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, was the first game to have women in the crowds. The women however had to enter through designated turnstiles for women and families.

Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, told AFP she was proud and looked forward to the match.

"I came with my father and my brother - we're fans of Al-Ahli", said university student Areej al-Ghamdi, adding that she had always cheered the club from home."This is the first time we'll be cheering for real, not just in front of the television", she told the Agence France-Presse.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, spoke of a "historic day in the kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes".

"I am proud and extremely happy for this development", she said.

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. The rest of the country's football grounds will be ready for female fans by the beginning of the next sporting season.

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Ahead of the game, clubs took to Twitter to encourage women in attending the local match offering them traditional robes in team colours.

Women were allowed to enter the stadium through "family gates" and into the family seating area as part of easing the strict rules on gender separation. "With you, the scene is complete".

The game began at 8pm (1am today, Malaysian time), but two hours before the historic kick-off, enthusiasm was palpable as women supporters began arriving at the stadium.

The Saudi General Sports Authority said that it had made all the necessary preparations to create an attractive sports environment for families and to ensure their privacy.

The exhibition, focusing on fuel-efficient cars, featured a team of saleswomen to help their new customer base. The notorious driving ban on women was lifted in September 2017, and this week Saudi Arabia will host its first ever women's squash tournament.

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