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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Saudi Arabia to open sports stadiums to women in 2018

Three previously male-only venues will be opened up to families in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh in 2018

Saudi Arabia women attended a rally to celebrate the 87th annual National Day of Saudi Arabia in September. It has been announced that women will be allowed to attend sports events in stadiums in the future. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Saudi Arabia women attended a rally to celebrate the 87th annual National Day of Saudi Arabia in September. It has been announced that women will be allowed to attend sports events in stadiums in the future. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Saudi Arabia will allow women into sports stadiums for the first time next year in a landmark move as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious reforms.

Three previously male-only venues will be opened up to families in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh in 2018, said the head of the General Sports Authority, Turki bin Abdul Mohsen Al Sheikh, on Sunday.

The announcement follows the kingdom’s historical decision to allow women to drive starting next June.

"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.

It added that restaurants, cafes and video screens would be set up inside the venues.

Also on Monday, head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Transport Authority (PTA), Dr Rumeih Al Rumeih, announced women will be eligible to drive trains.

The PTA is in charge of the kingdom’s plans to expand on an existing railway system that will see thousands of kilometres of tracks cutting across the 12th largest country in the world.

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Easing restrictions on women is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to overhaul the economy to reduce its reliance on oil revenue. The government says it wants to increase women’s participation in the workforce to 30 per cent from 22 per cent by 2030.

Under the country's guardianship system, a male family member — normally the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for a woman's study, travel and other activities.

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Last month hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, in a one-off event to celebrate Saudi Arabia's national day.

Sunday's announcement implies that women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed for the first time to attend sporting events inside stadiums alongside men.