Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Women's football league to kick off in Saudi Arabia

The Women's Football League will be staged in three Saudi cities

Saudi women queue to attend a match involving football team Al Ahli at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. AFP
Saudi women queue to attend a match involving football team Al Ahli at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. AFP

Saudi Arabia has launched the kingdom's first women's football league in a "major leap forward for the future" of the country, the president of the Saudi Sports for All Federation announced.

The WFL was unveiled at an event on Monday along with the tournament prize money of 500,000 Saudi riyals (Dh489,700).

"The commencement of the Saudi Women’s Football League is one more major leap forward for the future of our country, our health, our youth and our ambitions to see every athlete be recognised and nurtured to their fullest capability,” SFA president Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud said.

The tournament will be mainly held in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam and will follow the format of a series of regional competitions from which the winners enter knockout stages before a final match.

The league was launched after workshops and consultations across the country and will be supported with coaching and refereeing courses for women over the age of 17.

“Active people and the bolstering of women in sports and the recognition of women’s athletic achievement are all important steps forward. The SFA is excited to see this landmark women-centric competitive series become a reality,” Prince Khaled said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 has pushed for sweeping social reforms to open up the kingdom to foreign investors and diversify the economy, moving it away from a reliance on oil. The initiative includes efforts to improve health and quality of life for the Saudi population.

The launch came only days before the kingdom announced a Cabinet reshuffle that turned the General Sports Authority into a full ministry. The head of the body, former race car driver Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki, was appointed the kingdom’s first sports minister.

The new league comes on the heels of a series of changes to women's rights laws in Saudi Arabia. In January 2018, women were allowed to attend sports events in stadiums for the first time and girls allowed access to physical education and sports in school.

In August 2019, the kingdom gave permission for women to travel freely without a man as their guardian.

“Empowering women comes through positive and proactive programmes like the WFL that have been conceptualised to continue to have a lasting impact on health, fitness and well-being," SFA managing director Shaima Saleh Al Husseini said.

In recent years, numerous Saudi women’s sports teams have formed. Last year, a team of women from the kingdom travelled to Las Vegas to compete in the World Women’s Bowling Championship.

The women formed a team after playing for fun in alleys across Riyadh and decided to compete, with the backing of the Saudi government.

Updated: February 26, 2020 10:09 AM

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