Saudi women have won another right from their conservative male overlords. From next year, they will be allowed into three sports stadiums for the first time.
The landmark move announced by the authorities on Sunday, would open up the previously male-only venues to families.
It was one of a raft of decisions announced by Turki Al-Asheikh, chairman of the General Sports Authority, aimed at supporting and stimulating the sports sector”, arabnews.comreported. It was also in line with with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious reform drive shaking up the ultra-conservative kingdom, including the decision to allow women to drive from next June.
The authority “will start rehabilitating the main stadiums in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah to be ready to receive families starting in 2018,” Al-Asheikh said.
The move is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to engage women in society as an integral part of the development process.
The kingdom, which has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, has long barred women from sports arenas by strict rules on segregation of the sexes in public.
This month Al-Asheikh, who is also president of the Saudi Olympic Committee, appointed Princess Reema bint Bandar president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports.
Princess Reema has also opened the new Studio 5 gym in Jeddah. She seeks to encourage women to take exercise in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Last month, women were invited with their families to a sports stadium for the first time to attend annual National Day celebrations. Such venues had previously been male only.
Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member — normally the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.
But the kingdom appears to be relaxing some norms as part of its “Vision 2030” plan for economic and social reforms, which aims to boost female employment.
In July, rights campaigners welcomed an “overdue” reform by the education ministry to allow girls to take part in sports at state schools.