02:13 GMT +321 January 2018
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    Football, Finally: Saudi Women to Be Allowed Into Stadiums for First Time Friday

    © AFP 2018/ FAYEZ NURELDINE
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    Sports stadiums in Saudi Arabia will open their doors to female football fans for the first time ever on Friday, as part of the government’s series of reforms, which include the planned lifting of a ban on women driving and the reopening of cinemas.

    Three previously male-only stadiums in the capital, Riyadh; Jeddah on the Red Sea; and the eastern city of Dammam are preparing to open special sections for women, according to the kingdom's General Sports Authority.

    "The first match that women will be allowed to watch will be Al-Ahli versus Al-Batin on Friday, Jan 12," the country's Ministry of Information said in a statement on Monday, adding that Jeddah's King Abdullah Stadium will host the game.

    Women will also be able to attend a second match between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad at Riyadh's King Fahd International Stadium on the following day and a third one, between Al-Ettifaq and Al-Faisaly, at Dammam's Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium on January 18.

    "There will be a number of ways in which women will be granted access to the matches, including the ticketing system… and the electronic gates which will be controlled and transferred between the three stadiums as well as other places on the field in case the stadium is crowded," Undersecretary of Technical Affairs and Investment at GSA Abdul Rahman Al Qadheeb told the Riyadh Daily newspaper.

    He added that after an assessment of the opening of the first three stadiums, the remaining stadiums in Saudi Arabia will gradually join the initiative.

    Previously, some stadiums hosted women only for one-off events, including Saudi Arabia's national day celebrations.

    The change is radical for the country, which has long been internationally criticized for its tight restrictions on women, barring them from studying or traveling without permission from a male "guardian" — normally a father, husband or brother.

    The social reform is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to shed the kingdom's ultra-conservative image and to overhaul the country's oil-dependent economy by boosting domestic spending on entertainment.

    The law was decided on October 29 last year, soon after the decision to lift the driving ban, which is set to happen in June. As a part of the crown prince's reform drive, Saudi Arabia also announced in December it was ending a decades-ban on cinemas. The first movie theatres are expected to open in March.

    Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 144 countries on gender parity on the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum.

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