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Saturday 17 February 2018

Saudi Arabia allows women into sports arenas - but only in 'family section'

Women will be seated in the so-called family section, separate from the male-only crowd
Women will be seated in the so-called family section, separate from the male-only crowd

Saudi Arabia will allow women into sports stadiums from next year, in the conservative kingdom's latest step towards easing gender segregation rules.

But they will be seated in a so-called family section, an area separate from the male-only crowd.

The General Sports Authority described the decision as one that will allow "families" into stadiums, a term authorities use to refer to public spaces that accommodate women.

The authority said the three major sports stadiums in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam would be altered to accommodate families, reversing years of long-standing practice to allow only men.

The decision comes after the public appeared to welcome last month's move that allowed women into the Riyadh stadium for the first time, for national day celebrations.

AP

The family sections are for women who are out on their own or accompanied by a male relative.

Many restaurants and cafes, which often have separate entrances for women, have similarly segregated seating arrangements.

The new move is a stark reversal from years of allowing only men into the stadiums, many built with hundreds of millions of dollars when oil prices were nearly double what they are now.

The government spent lavishly on the stadiums in an effort to appease its young population and provide spaces for fans eager to cheer on local clubs, as well as hold national parades and ceremonies.

Two years ago, a Saudi woman was arrested at a football game in Jiddah's al-Jawhara stadium, which opened to the public in 2014.

Police were quoted in local media at the time as saying that security spotted her at the stadium "deliberately disguised" in trousers, a long-sleeved top, a hat and sunglasses to avoid detection.

Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil and all women are required to wear an abaya, a loose black dress, in public.

Over the years, there have been some exceptions for foreign women. In 2015, an Australian female supporter of Western Sydney Wanderers football club was permitted to attend a match at Riyadh's main stadium and a group of American women travelling with members of US Congress watched a local club match, also in Riyadh.

AP

Press Association

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