Saudi Arabia to Allow Women at Sports Events

Saudi Arabia to Allow Women at Sports Events

Saudi Arabia to Allow Women at Sports Events

"Starting the preparation of three stadiums in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam to be ready to accommodate families from early 2018", the General Sports Authority said on Twitter, referring to the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, the King Abdullah Sport City in Jeddah and the Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam.

As from 2018, women will be allowed into sports stadiums for the first time in Saudi Arabia, authorities said on Sunday, in a landmark move that will ease restrictions on women spectators in sports arenas.

Hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh last month for the objective of celebrating the country's national day, but the event was merely a one-off. In September, it was announced that King Salman had instructed the country's driving licence offices to reverse decades of tradition by issuing licences to women.

Specific seating arrangements are unclear at the moment as Saudi men and women are customarily separated in places where they are both allowed.

They have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component or pre-date Islam.

The celebrations also showcased another crucial element of the modernising agenda - fun.

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The kingdom adheres to an austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, which bans gender-mixing, concerts and cinemas.

BBC Radio 4 journalist Kirsty Lang wrote in the Financial Times earlier this week that, in the capital Riyadh at least, social norms are evolving fast.

Saudi Arabia had been the only country left in the world where women were not permitted to drive.

The recent reforms are part of a strategy called Vision 2030, which aims to lessen Saudi Arabia's reliance on the oil industry by developing the private sector and making the kingdom more attractive to foreign investors.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is taking various ambitious reform measures to shake up the traditional image of Saudi Arabia and the announcement is being seen as a step in this direction.

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