Saudi women will attend a football match in Jeddah later on Friday, in a first for the kingdom.
The country’s top sports authority said family tickets were on sale for Friday and Saturday fixtures in the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh, allowing women to attend league games in separate stands. The development is the latest in a series of reforms in the conservative kingdom spearheaded by its crown prince.
The general sports authority said it had prepared three stadiums to receive women and families and the rest of the country’s football fields would follow by the beginning of the next sporting season.
Stadiums will also have separate cafes and prayer rooms for women.
Al-Ittihad, one of the country’s top football clubs, is scheduled to play in a derby game before mixed spectators on Saturday. It welcomed the move and tweeted a banner featuring a Saudi woman whose face is painted in the golden colours of the club.
“Ittihad fans, male and female, are the support of this club, and success is not complete without them coming together to serve this historic entity,” the club tweeted. “With you, the scene is complete.”
Social media users tweeted pictures of a sign showing designated entrances for women at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, where Friday’s game is being played.
The move to open up stadiums to women for the first time was announced last October. A third stadium in the city of Dammam will also be prepared for families.
“The general sports authority has provided everything that would create an attractive sports environment for families and provide everything needed to ensure their privacy,” the country’s sports governing body said in a statement.
On Thursday women flocked to Le Mall in Jeddah to view the kingdom’s first car exhibition aimed at them, a few months after King Salman issued a decree granting them the right to drive from June 2018 – a move opposed by hardline clerics.
The exhibition focused on fuel-efficient cars and provided a team of saleswomen to help their new customer base. The showroom carried signs emblazoned with the slogan “Drive and Shop”, a play on words in Arabic, using the female form of the verbs.
The driving and football developments are the latest in a series of social reforms ordered by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who wields extraordinary power. Last year he pledged to modernise the kingdom and to scale back the power of its ultraconservative clerics, returning Saudi Arabia to what he described as “moderate Islam”.
Saudi women still require a legal guardian for many matters, and years of oppression and appeasement of the top clerics have widened the gender gap and held women back from participating in the workforce and public life.