Saudi Arabia To Lift Restriction Banning Women From Sports Stadiums

Image via AP.
Image via AP.

For the first time in history, Saudi Arabia will open some of its sports stadiums to women, the latest move by one of the world’s most restrictive countries to incrementally loosen its grip on its female citizens.

Three stadiums—in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah—will be renovated and “ready to receive families starting in 2018,” Turki Al-Asheikh, chairman of the General Sports Authority, told Arab News. The rehabilitation will include the addition of restaurants, cafes and video screens in the venues, though it’s unclear whether seating will be gender segregated.

Hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh last month for the purpose of celebrating the country’s national day, but the event was merely a one-off. The implication from Sunday’s announcement, however, is that women will be able to regularly attend sporting events alongside men, though they’ll still be required to get permission from a male family member as part of its guardianship system.


The move is part of a sweeping set of initiatives known as “Vision 2030,” in which the kingdom is looking to modernize as it prepares for a post-oil era. Included in the reform package was last month’s decree that women be allowed to drive, in addition to plans to lift a public ban on cinemas and encouraging mixed-gender celebrations, The Guardian reports. The changes aren’t in the name of gender equality so much as an attempt to get more women in the workforce, which the kingdom hopes to increase from 22 percent to 30 percent.

But the increasingly relaxed laws have plenty of conservative detractors, and analysts have warned that backlash is likely. “First women driving, now stadiums. What’s next? Night clubs?” wrote one Saudi Twitter user. Imagine!

Night blogger at Jezebel

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I don’t know why, but this takes me back to the 1970s in the US. I guess because that was a time when women were first starting to win some basic human rights. I remember all the ways men made fun of us and insulted us for wanting things like jobs, houses, and control over our own finances. (Women weren’t granted credit back in the day. In fact, they weren’t even hired at McDonald’s.)

I mean, it’s sort of the same now — being insulted, blamed, called names, laughed at. But bit by bit we’re gaining human rights. I remember one summer afternoon in the 70s when I heard, for the first time, a woman’s voice on the radio as a dj. It felt so strange and almost wrong, like she was playing at man’s job. Now it’s hard to imagine a time when women’s voices were never heard publicly.

Those same years, there were huge debates about whether or not women should be allowed to pilot airplanes. Newscasters talked about how women’s periods would make them too unwell to fly. (They never explained how women managed their jobs as flight attendants, but my guess is that piloting required superior man brains.)

Idk, it gets depressing that we’re still fighting to not be held responsible for violence against us, that we’re called names for wanting equal pay, that some low-level tech dude can claim that software development (which is on the list of top ten low-stress jobs) is too stressful for our neurotic female brains — and tons of people agree with him or at least champion his God-given right to spew that kind of hate to the women he works with. But little by little, the things we fight so hard for start to seem natural, and how hard we had to fight for them gets forgotten.

We had a lot of “women not allowed in stadiums” types of things in the 70s. For example, it was illegal for a woman to be a bartender. Now all that stuff is forgotten or seems unbelievable. I guess I’m happy at how crazy it all sounds now, but I’m also weary that we have to fight the same bitter fights all over again against people who will seem utterly incomprehensible 40 years from now.