Saudi Prince to Open Sports Stadiums to Women

'What’s next? Night clubs?' one critic tweeted
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2017 8:24 AM CDT
Next Frontier for Saudi Women: Sports Stadiums
In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi men and women attend the national day ceremonies at the King Fahd stadium in Riyadh, on Sept. 23.   (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

First came driving, now Saudi women will be allowed in sports stadiums. Saudi authorities on Sunday tweeted that stadiums in three cities—Riyadh, Jeddah, and Damman—"will be ready to accommodate families from early 2018," AFP reports. The move was the latest effort by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to increase rights for women in the ultra-conservative country. The stadiums selected are the nation's largest, home to six soccer teams in the top Saudi Professional League, CNN notes. The announcement drew criticism from conservative Saudi Twitter users, who deluged social media with surprised reactions to the fast pace of change, per AFP. "First women driving, now stadiums. What’s next? Night clubs?" tweeted one.

Seating arrangements were unclear but the kingdom strictly enforces separation of the sexes. In September, hundreds of women sat in family sections for the first time in a Riyadh stadium for a national day celebration. While many praised the onetime freedom, conservatives who favor keeping to a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism, were not pleased. Last week, Prince Mohammed declared the heart of his modernization plan was a return to "moderate Islam," per the BBC. He said the 70% of the Saudi population under 30 wants a "life in which our religion translates to tolerance." The prince's "vision for 2030" plan to revitalize the economy includes boosting the participation of women in various sectors of Saudi life, including increasing their role in the labor market to 30% from 22%, per AFP. (A Saudi woman who ventured out in a floral dress was arrested.)

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