Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 March 2020

In Saudi Arabia, women have scored another winning goal

Riyadh has launched its first female football league as part of a national drive to empower women

A Saudi couple attends a football match in Jeddah. Women have recently been allowed to attend sporting events. AFP
A Saudi couple attends a football match in Jeddah. Women have recently been allowed to attend sporting events. AFP

Saudi Arabia is planning on expanding the number of professional football players competing in the country, not by recruiting more athletes to its existing national team, but by creating its first all-female football league. This is a significant milestone for Saudi women, who now can partake in football events as professional players or spectators, a prospect that would have been difficult to foresee a few years ago. It is also an opportunity for all Saudis to come closer to achieving their dreams, where gender is not a barrier.

The creation of the Women's Football League was announced on Monday, and games will kick off as soon as next month. The first WFL tournament will take place in cities across the kingdom, and the winning team will receive a prize totalling nearly Dh500,000.

The move is part of a wider drive to promote sport in the kingdom and to diversify the culture sector. Earlier this week, in the wake of a Cabinet reshuffle, Riyadh upgraded its General Sports Authority to a fully fledged ministry headed by 36-year-old former auto racing star Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki. The young minister has competed in international tournaments and is well positioned to lead by example, inspiring other young people to participate in sporting events and become part of their nation’s history.

Above all, the creation of the league further solidifies women’s integral status in this new chapter of Saudi history. Women necessarily represent half of the equation when it comes to affording opportunities to excel in sport, and many initiatives bearing this in mind have flourished in the past few years. In 2019, an all-female Saudi team competed in the World Women’s Bowling Championship and last December, riders of all genders participated at the Diriyah Equestrian Festival, competing side by side for the first time. Such initiatives allow Saudi women to shine and to receive the support and recognition they deserve.

Whether on the sporting pitch or in the workplace, Riyadh is determined to build a strong future

The historic breakthroughs in sport come on the heels of a series of broader, progressive reforms dedicated to women in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, women were granted the right to drive. Last year, legal restrictions on the right to travel without the permission of male guardians were lifted. These changes are part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030, a long-term strategy to open up the country to the world and diversify its oil-reliant economy by boosting other sectors such as tourism, technology entertainment and sport. While more remains to be achieved, the pace and scope of change must be lauded.

The ambitious plan relies on forward-looking leadership as well as on the talent and drive of young Saudis, who make up nearly 40 per cent of all citizens. Whether on the sporting pitch or in the workplace, Riyadh is determined to build a strong future. Creating spaces where women can reach new heights and achieve their full potential will be pivotal to furthering the kingdom's success story in the coming years. Regardless of age, gender and status, all segments of society have a part to play in making Saudi Arabia a true champion.

Updated: February 27, 2020 06:51 PM

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