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Saudi women to be allowed into sports stadiums


Penny Hopkins
WVoN co-editor 

In another example of King Abdullah’s “cautious reform”, there are plans afoot to adapt some of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent sports stadiums to enable women to attend sports events.

In the ultra-conservative country, dominated by the strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, restrictions on women include being unable to travel or work without the written permission of a male relative.

Recently, liberal pressure has resulted in women being given the right to vote and to stand in local elections. Since June 2011, a Facebook campaign to allow women to drive has also been gathering momentum.

Last year the Saudi Football Federation put forward a proposal to allow women inside sports stadiums, and now it seems that this will become a reality by 2014.

The first stadium to be adapted will be the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah. Balconies and cabins will be built for female fans and children, as well as separate facilities for female journalists and photographers.

The story was broken in the state-run newspaper, Al-Sharq, which announced, “Sources close to the stadium said more than 15 per cent of the facility will be allocated for families.”

It is expected that stadiums in Riyadh and Dammam will be next in line.

The issue of women at sports events has also been making news in Turkey, where football matches are notoriously confrontational.

One of the most intimidating atmospheres is at Fenerbahçe. It was there that, in September 2011, a pre-season friendly with Ukrainian team Shakhtar Donetsk culminated in a pitch invasion by fans.

The usual punishment for this would have been for the next two games to be played behind closed doors, but the Turkish Football Federation took a different approach.

They issued free tickets to women and to children under 12 (see WVoN story). The 41,000-capacity stadium was filled.

Reportedly, the atmosphere of the match against Manisaspor was electric. The women knew all the songs and chants, but without the hostility. The two teams threw flowers into the crowd before the game started.

Less alcohol was consumed and less rubbish left behind. The club shop reported record sales of merchandise.

As a result, Fenerbahçe has announced that for a trial period they will provide a women-only section in the ground, offering free tickets to female customers of the mobile phone company that sponsors the club (see WVoN story).

The whole event was much feted in the media, but there is still work to do. In 2007 only 15 per cent of Turkish women attended any kind of sports event.

There are no women employed at the Turkish Football Federation, and of the 18 Turkish Super League teams, only two have a woman on their board.

So, small steps in Turkey, smaller still in Saudi Arabia.

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