Media Coverage for Women's Sport
Saudi Arabia, under domestic and international pressure to grant women sporting rights, is creating separate stadium sections so that female spectators and journalists can attend soccer matches in a country that has no public physical education or sporting facilities for women.
The move announced by the recently elected head of the Saudi Football Federation, Ahmed Eid Alharbi, a storied player believed to be a reformer, also comes as soccer is emerging as a focal point of dissent in the conservative kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has been slow in granting limited enhancement of women’s rights in response to demands by activists. Women in Saudi Arabia are banned from driving, travelling without authorization from a male relative and banned from working in a host of professions. Saudi Arabia’s religious police said last month that women would be allowed to ride bikes and motorbikes in recreational areas provided that they were properly dressed and accompanied by a male relative.
Saudi Arabia recently also announced that it would allow girl’s physical education in private schools as long as they do so in line with Islamic law. Yet, a five-year national sports plan, the kingdom’s first, currently being drafted does not make provisions for women’s sports. Saudi sources say the government is also for the first time considering licensing women’s soccer clubs.
Saudi Arabia last year sent under pressure from the International Olympic Committee women athletes, albeit expatriate ones, to the 2012 London Olympics, the first time Saudi women competed in an international tournament. The kingdom is also under pressure from the West Asian Football Federation, which earlier this year, issued guidelines to ensure that women have equal rights and opportunities in soccer.
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