Saudi Arabia announced this week that it will be allowing women into its sports stadiums for the first time, in a move that has been welcomed both in the Gulf state and abroad.
The decision comes in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s driving ban being lifted, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ushers in reforms as part of his Vision 2030 plan.
Women have previously been unable to attend sporting events in the country’s stadiums as they were designated all-male, but the Saudi General Sports Authority revealed that it will be giving access to female spectators by early 2018.
Families will be welcome at three arenas in the cities of Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh.
Rob Balsom, Head of Research MENA, Nielsen Sports & Entertainment, believes that the decision could prove economically fruitful for Saudi Arabia.
He told Sports Industry Insider: “This is a really important change for football in Saudi Arabia and promises to help grow match day attendance numbers.
“There is definitely an appetite for football amongst Saudi Arabian females – our SportsDNA study indicates 51% of females in the Kingdom are football fans (either interested or very interested in football) – and we will watch with interest to see how this following translates to attendance.”
“The changes will provide football sponsors with a new opportunity to engage with female football fans on match days, and we’re expecting to see an increase in sponsor activations and initiatives in and around stadiums.”
U.S.-raised Princess Reema bint Bandar was named the first female president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports in October and it is believed she had a major role in pushing through the decision.
“It means something for me. It is not only because of watching sports – we have gained some of our rights now,” Sarah Alhelal, a fitness instructor in the city of Khobar, told Thomson Reuters. “It is pushing other girls to do what I couldn’t do.”