It was a historic moment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday night at King Abdullah Sports City stadium, not because Al-Ahli F.C. beat Al-Batin F.C. 5-0, but because women could walk through the venue’s doors. The game marked the first time women were allowed to attend a major sporting event in the kingdom.
Although they were placed in the “family section,” segregated from the male-only section, and had a separate entrance, parking lot and prayer area, they were allowed to cheer, take pictures and enjoy the action on the pitch just like men have been doing for decades.
“Today, you brought happiness to every Saudi family and woman who attended the first game,” Reema Bandar Al-Saud, a deputy at the General Sports Authority and part of the Saudi Royal family, told CNN.
Women were allowed to attend a football match in Saudi Arabia for the first time ever when Al-Ahli played Al-Batin yesterday 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/2jzuy3x2Zi
— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 13, 2018
The ban on women was lifted thanks to liberal social reforms initiated by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“Honestly this decision should have happened a long time ago,” spectator Muneera al-Ghamdi told the Associated Press. “But thank god that it came in the right time, and hopefully what’s to come will be even more beautiful for women.
The prince will inherit a country in which more than half the population is under the age of 25 and yearning for progressive change, which will soon include allowing women into movie theaters and encouraging them to work in the Saudi labor market.
However, strict guardianship laws are still in place, which forbid women from marrying without a male relative’s content, traveling abroad and securing a passport.
Saudi Arabia still has a long ways to go in terms of boosting women’s empowerment, but progress, no matter how slow it comes, is progress. And hopefully soon, women in that region of the world will have more to cheer about than a goal at a soccer match.