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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Saudi Arabia hosts its first professional women's squash tournament

It comes amid a slew of reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that include a lifting of restrictions on women

Egypt's world number one, Nour El Sherbini (seen here playing a shot at the 2016 Women's World Championship final in Bukit Jalil, Malaysia), is taking part in the first professional women's squash tournament to be hosted by Saudi Arabia. AFP
Egypt's world number one, Nour El Sherbini (seen here playing a shot at the 2016 Women's World Championship final in Bukit Jalil, Malaysia), is taking part in the first professional women's squash tournament to be hosted by Saudi Arabia. AFP

The first professional women's squash tournament to be hosted by Saudi Arabia has kicked off in Riyadh.

The tournament, which began on Sunday and will end on Friday, is the first women's squash World Series event of 2018 and comes amid a slew of reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that include a lifting of restrictions on women.

On Friday, Saudi women will for the first time be allowed to enter sports stadiums to watch football matches between local teams. It follows the lifting of a ban on women driving which is set to be implemented in June.

The Saudi Women's Masters squash tournament has no qualifying rounds meaning that the 32 players taking part go straight into the draw, including the Saudi wild card, Nada Abo Al Naja. The top seed is Egyptian world number one Nour El Sherbini.

The players will be battling it out for the tournament's lucrative prize fund of US$165,000 (Dh605,962).

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Ziad Al Turki, the chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA), the sport's global governing body, is Saudi himself.

According to the PSA, at a dinner ahead of the Saudi women's tournament hosted by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, Mr Al Turki said: "Things are changing in Saudi, and they are changing fast. Win or lose, you are making history."

On December 1, Mr Al Turki tweeted that wild card player Abo Al Naja would become the first Saudi woman to play in a PSA tournament.

British player Sarah-Jane Perry, who is ranked sixth in the world, tweeted that she was "proud" to be a part of the first Saudi women's tournament.

"It was amazing to be hosted by Princess Reema tonight and hear how truly passionate she is about sport in Saudi. Thanks to @zalturki for persisting in making your dream a reality and facilitating us to live ours #groundbreaking," she added.