Manama: Sports stadiums in Saudi Arabia will open their doors to women to attend football matches for the first time ever on Friday, the government has announced.
“The first match that women will be allowed to watch will be Al Ahli versus Al Batin on Friday January 12,” the ministry of information said in a statement on Monday.
It said women would also be able to attend a second match on the following day and a third one on January 18.
Women from across the vast Gulf kingdom may be able to take advantage of this new freedom as the first match will be held in the capital Riyadh, the second in Jeddah on the Red Sea and the third in the eastern city of Dammam.
Al Jawhara Stadium in the Red Sea city of Jeddah has upgraded its facilities in anticipation of the new women spectators.
Pictures of the facilities have been circulating on social media and building up excitement among fans and supporters.
Facilities include prayer rooms, powerful air-conditioners and restrooms.
Even a smoking zone for women was prepared to accommodate those who cannot do without a puff although they are attending athletic events.
The fifth floor of the stadium, with a capacity of 10,000 seats, has been reserved for women to attend sporting events.
In the King Fahad Stadium in Riyadh, women will have 7,000 seats and in the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahad Stadium in Dammam, they will have the West and East seats.
Women will enter the stadiums through separate gates and the process will be supervised by women.
Saudi Shura Council Member Dr Iqbal Darandari hailed the decision to allow women into sports as a highly significant event that will allow Saudi women to practice sports.
The Shura member said that the kingdom’s biggest clubs, such as Al Hilal and Al Nassr in Riyadh and Al Ettihad and Al Ahly in Jeddah, should dedicate some days for women to exercise and train. They should also form their own teams of women players and encourage them to hold competitions, she added.
The kingdom has in recent months eased restrictions on women, including the lifting of a driving ban - set to go into effect in June.
In September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to mark Saudi Arabia’s national day.
The easing of social controls comes as Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman looks to repackage the nation as more moderate and welcoming.
The crown prince’s Vision 2030 programme for a post-oil era stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an energy slump.
As a part of the crown prince’s reforms drive, Saudi Arabia announced in December it was lifting a decades-ban on cinemas with the first movie theatres expected to open in March.