Saudi Arabia’s first football match has begun on Tuesday morning, with 24 teams across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam competing for a championship cup, and a $133,000 cash prize. The historic competition kicks off with 24 teams with more than 600 players begun after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The opening matches on Tuesday evening were not televised, but Saudi media hailed them as another step forward for women’s participation in sport. For many years, the authorities cited cultural norms and religious teachings in denying women the right to participate in sporting activities. Conservative clerics warned that opening sports to them would lead to immorality. It was only in 2018 that women were first allowed to watch football matches in stadiums in the Gulf kingdom, now Saudi Arabia is encouraging them to cross the touchline and compete in the Kingdom’s first Women’s Football League tournament.
Seven matches took place in the capital Riyadh and the Red Sea city of Jeddah on the opening day of the Saudi Women’s Football League (WFL), which had been due to kick off in March. The results included an 11-0 win for Tigers over Jeddah Challenge, and a 10-1 victory for Al Riyadh United over Najd Al Riyady. The teams will compete in their respective cities before participating in the final nationwide championship stage, where the championship cup will be awarded. The government-run Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) said that through the WFL it was striving “to empower women and to encourage them to become active and to participate in sports at the community level”. The competition has been lauded as an important step for the Saudi sports world, with many in the game throwing their support behind the event. Calling the competition a “positive step,” Abdullah Alyami, Saudi football coach and sports reporter, said he expects many more women to participate in future tournaments. “This is a very happy day for all athletes, be they male or female. And based on what we’ve seen, and how beloved the sport of football is all over the Kingdom, I believe we will see many more of our sisters getting involved in professional sports,” he said.