February 28 – Saudi Arabia has launched a women’s league, two years after women were first allowed into stadiums in the Gulf kingdom.
“The launch of the [league] bolsters women’s participation in sports at the community level and will generate increased recognition for women’s sports achievements,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, the president of the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA).
In 2018, Saudi women were allowed to attend football matches for the first time, the same year that the Gulf kingdom ended a decades-long ban on female drivers. Last year, Saudi Arabia permitted women to travel abroad without a male guardian’s permission.
Saudi Arabia has long barred women from participating in sports in public. In 2012, the Gulf kingdom sent female athletes to the Olympic Games for the first time.
The move to create a women’s league is seen as another step in softening the austere rules imposed on women in the conservative kingdom, but Amnesty International warned that the new league does little to mediate the dire human rights record of the Arab country.
“The launch of a women’s football league in Saudi Arabia is no doubt a step that will be welcomed by Saudi citizens – but as with other reforms relating to women in the Kingdom, it is also a painful reminder of the abysmal situation for the very women and men who have fought for such change,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf.
“In recent months, Saudi Arabia has worked hard at ‘sportswashing’ its reputation – trying to use the glamour of sport as a public relations tool to improve its international image, particularly following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
The new league will be staged in the capital Riyadh and two other cities, but would not involve actual women’s clubs, as they don’t exist in Saudi Arabia. Girls have been invited to register online and teams will be formed from the pool of registrants.
It is, however, not the first time that women in Saudi Arabia will play football in an organised way. In 2019, a women’s league was launched in Jeddah, involving six teams. Jeddah Eagles FC were crowned maiden champions.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1586314283abtoo1586314283fdlro1586314283wedis1586314283ni@tc1586314283atnoc1586314283