Female soccer fans in Saudi Arabia attended their first match ever Friday at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah. The game was the first time a major sporting event was open to women in the kingdom.
The easing of the strict gender segregation was announced in October 2017 as part of the ambitious reforms by Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince.
The decree opened the King Fahd stadium in Riyadh, King Abdullah Sport City stadium in Jeddah, and Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd stadium in Dammam to women and families. All three stadiums were previously male-only.
Saudi Arabia still adheres to some of the strictest interpretations of Sunni Islam in the world but has seen liberal reforms recently. The change in policy followed the historic decree in September 2017 allowing women to drive, beginning this summer.
Females spectators on Friday cheered on two of the teams in the Saudi Professional League, Al-Ahli F.C. and Al-Batin F.C. Al-Ahli won 5-0.
The Saudi General Sports Authority said it had provided all the necessary accommodations to "create an attractive sports environment for families and provide everything needed to ensure their privacy."
A separate 'family entrance' was opened with female attendants working the gates. The stadium also opened a separate pray area, cafe, and medical facility for female fans.
"Today, you brought happiness to every Saudi family and woman who attended the first game," said Reema Bandar Al-Saud, a deputy at the General Sports Authority and part of the Saudi Royal family. "This is a historic moment for the Kingdom."
The plan for the country's economic reinvention rests on a number of pillars, including youth empowerment, social organization and women's empowerment. The kingdom wants to increase participation of women in the Saudi labor market and other aspects of life.