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Saudi Women Attend, Cheer at Live Soccer Match for the First Time

14 January 2018

In the soccer-obsessed but ultraconservative Islamic kingdom, the match between the local teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin in Jidda was the first time that women were allowed to attend a game at a public stadium, a new step in the government's efforts to loosen gender restrictions.

In Saturday's match Al-Hilal drew 1-1 versus Al-Ittihad.

In October, the Saudi General Sports Authority, a state agency, announced that three stadiums, up to now male-only facilities, would be prepared to be ready for families, including the allocation of special places for seating and entrances.

For the first time in the country's history, women in Saudi Arabia were allowed inside of a sports stadium to watch a professional soccer game.

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"This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future".

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

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

The momentous occasion is part of the reforms being brought in by crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pledged to "return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam".

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Social media was also abuzz.

An Arabic hashtag on Twitter about women entering stadiums garnered tens of thousands of tweets on Friday, with some using the hashtag to share photos of female spectators wearing their team's colors in scarves thrown over their black abayas.

To prepare for the change, the kingdom has designated "family sections" in the stands for women. "With you, the scene is complete". The showroom carried signs emblazoned with the slogan "Drive and Shop", a play on words in Arabic, using the female form of the verbs.

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Saudi Women Attend, Cheer at Live Soccer Match for the First Time