February 7: Criticism of FIFA’s proposed sponsorship deal for the 2023 Women’s World Cup with the Saudi Arabia tourist board has been loud, but domestically the Saudi’s look to be making all the right moves to provide more opportunity for women in football.
The Kingdom has formed a national U17 squad the first 28 players heading to Riyadh for a training camp in Riyadh this weekend.
The U-17 squad was chosen following trials across the country’s three Regional Training Centres in the capital city Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
More than 300 players attended the trials with of players chosen after being spotted playing in the inaugural Schools’ League launched at the end of last year. Five of the selected squad are already honing playing in the Women’s Premier League.
Yasser Al Misehal, President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) said: “Saudi Arabia has become an ambitious supporter of sport to help inspire its young population to get active and to lead healthy lives… Women and girls are central to everything we do in sport, and we are working to provide equal access to facilities, opportunities and careers, both on and off the pitch.”
“In football that means our national teams regardless of male or female get equal pay in terms of daily allowance while on national duty, they train on the same pitches, stay in the same type of accommodation, and use the same equipment.”
Saudi Arabia will now have three women’s national teams – a senior team, a futsal team and the new U17 squad.
The Saudi FA is sending a clear message to their country’s detractors saying that they are making social changes and they are making them fast.
From a position where women were not allowed into stadia to watch matches in 2019, the Saudis now have two women’s professional leagues with 25 clubs and 523 players from more than 20 different countries. At grassroots level 50,000 schoolgirls took part in the inaugural schools’ league across 4,700 teams across Saudi Arabia. While Saudi female referee – Anoud Al Asmari – was the first Saudi woman to make it on to FIFA’s licensed referees list last month.
In 2027 the Saudis will host the men’s Asian Cup and are also hoping to host the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026.
“The establishment of the U-17 team today is yet another sign of our strong commitment to women’s sports, and football in specific. Having been selected to host AFC Asian Cup 2027 in Saudi Arabia, our commitment now lies on our bid to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026. We invite everyone to visit our country to see for themselves how the country’s transformation is impacting daily lives and the role sport is playing across all areas of society,” said Al Misehal.
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