New Sound at Saudi Soccer Game: Women Cheering From the Stands


Ahead of the soccer game, there was another small sign of change: the country’s first car showroom dedicated to female customers was opened.

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Men and women seated together in the families section cheered.

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Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

But for the soccer game, a former Saudi sports journalist shared a photo of female ushers preparing to greet the female fans and their families.

Women cheered as an announcer read the names of the players, and as the teams faced off.

Soccer is very popular in Saudi Arabia, with many fans of international and local leagues, but female enthusiasts long had to content themselves with watching their favorite teams on television.

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Although tickets were only 20 riyals ($5.33), the family section for Friday’s match was less than half full.

Credit
Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Many women excited about the new ability to watch live games — as well as men opposed to this — took to social media on Friday, writing under the Arabic hash tags #FamiliesEnteringStadiums and #ThePeopleWelcomeWomenEnteringStadiums.

“This is more than women’s rights,” Fatimah S. Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said in a Twitter post, adding, “I’m rooting for the ladies.”

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A female usher at the stadium.

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Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

“I do not see that letting women enter stadiums is wrong or forbidden,” Manayer al-Qahtani also wrote on Twitter. “To the contrary, it does not go against religion nor against the customs and traditions. Many girls follow soccer and we gather at game time. It is a legal right for us.”

But some people used the hash tag to criticize the event, writing that the place of women is in their homes, focusing on their children and preserving their faith, and not at a stadium where male crowds may curse and get rowdy.

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Leaving the stadium after the match.

Credit
Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

The kingdom’s stadium had not been built with women in mind, so modifications were made so that they could attend matches. The government’s General Sports Authority said this week that three stadiums had so far been modified to accommodate women through the addition of private sections for women and their male relatives, female bathrooms and even prayer areas.

Although tickets were only 20 riyals ($5.33), the family section for Friday’s match was less than half full. But anticipation for the game was high on social media. People shared photos of female fans preparing to enter the stadium.

It was a far cry from 2015, when a Saudi woman who tried to attend a soccer game in Jidda was arrested after she was spotted by security officers wearing pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses to avoid detection, local news outlets reported.

Women will also attend a game on Saturday in the national stadium in the capital, Riyadh, as well as a game on Thursday in the city of Dammam.

On Friday, Al-Ahli trounced Al-Batin 5-0 in the Premier League match, according to the Saudi Gazette.

Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, a member of the royal family, attended the match and said on Twitter:

“Today, you brought happiness to every Saudi family and woman who attended the first game. This is a historic moment for the Kingdom.”




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