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Saudi women attend football game for the first time

AFP  |  Jeddah 

allowed women to enter a stadium for the first time to watch a match yesterday, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. The new measure comes after Riyadh, long known for imposing harsh restrictions on women, announced it was lifting a ban prohibiting them from driving, as well as reopening cinemas. Women supporters, all wearing the traditional black abaya robe, arrived well ahead of yesterday's kick-off in the stadium, some in sunglasses and others with loose-fitting veils. The Islamic kingdom has announced a series of reforms initiated by powerful Crown since last year. The first match women are being allowed to attend is a clash between Saudi League clubs and Al-Batin in the Red Sea city of Alone or accompanied by their families, many women sat in reserved seats in Glass panels were set up to separate men supporters from the women and family section of the stadium. brought his three daughters to the game. "My daughters still don't believe this is happening. They have not yet realised they will be cheering their favourite team inside the stadium," he said. Enthusiasm for the historic encounter began well before the scheduled 8:00 pm kick-off. Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old fan from Jeddah, said she was proud and looking forward to the match. "This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future.

I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change," she told AFP. Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another resident, called Friday a "historic day in the kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes". "I am proud and extremely happy for this development and for the kingdom's moves to catch up with civilised measures adopted by many countries," she said. The said last week women would be allowed to attend a second match on Saturday and a third next Thursday. The kingdom, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, has long barred them from arenas through strict rules that keep the sexes apart in public. But in September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a stadium in the capital Riyadh, used mostly for matches, for the first time to attend celebrations marking the country's The easing of social controls comes as Mohammed looks to repackage the as more moderate and welcoming. The powerful crown prince's "Vision 2030" programme for a partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an Noura Bakharji, another resident, said she always felt bitter when her brothers came back from stadiums to tell her about the excitement of watching matches in person. "I always watched games on TV while my brothers went to the stadiums... I asked myself repeatedly 'Why I can't go?'" she told AFP. "Today, things have changed. It's a day of happiness and joy." Hours before the game, Saudi clubs were encouraging women to attend through tweets on Some clubs are offering special abayas -- traditional head-to-toe robes for Saudi women -- in team colours. State-owned announced prizes of free tickets for five families who want to travel between cities to watch games. And a for the in the United States tweeted her delight at the development. "This is more than women's rights: today's match between and Al-Batin, and the ones to follow, are opportunities for families to come together and enjoy KSA's national sport -- soccer!" wrote on

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, January 13 2018. 11:00 IST
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