RIYADH – Saudi Arabia will allow families to attend sports events in stadiums for the first time from next year, as the ultra-conservative kingdom is starting to ease restrictions on women spectators.
Families will be able to enter the stadiums in three major cities, Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, according to a statement issued Sunday by the General Sports Authority, the country’s governing body for sports. Specific seating arrangements are unclear at the moment; Saudi men and women are customarily separated in places where they are both allowed.
Restaurants, cafes and monitor screens would be set up inside the stadiums as part of the changes, the statement added. Up until now, the venues have been men-only areas.
The country has several stadiums ranging in size, but the government appears to have chosen the biggest and most important. The stadiums are home to six teams in the Saudi Professional League – the top division – and two of the three stadiums included have the highest seating capacity in the kingdom.
It is another move towards giving more freedom to Saudi women, who face strict gender segregation rules, and follows the historic lifting of a driving ban.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is leading a major drive, known as Vision 2030, to modernise Saudi society and boost the economy.
Last month, a royal decree said that women would be allowed to drive for the first time from next June. Concerts are once again being held and cinemas are expected to return soon.
Last week, the 32-year-old Prince said that the return of a “moderate Islam” was key to his plans to modernise the country.
He said that 70% of the Saudi population was under 30 and that they wanted a “life in which our religion translates to tolerance”.
The plan for the country’s economic reinvention rests on a number of pillars, including youth empowerment, social organization and women’s empowerment. The kingdom wants to increase participation of women in the Saudi labour market and other aspects of life.