Saudi Arabia to let women enter sports stadiums in 2018

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia will for the first time allow women to attend sports events, preparing special sections in three selected stadiums from early next year in another step toward opening public spaces to women.

The stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh will be set up to accommodate families from early 2018, said the statement from the General Sports Authority, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency late on Sunday.

SEE ALSO: Saudi Arabia draws outrage after failing to participate in moment of silence before match

Last month Saudi Arabia announced that, from June, women would be allowed to drive cars, ending the world's only ban on female driving.

An economic and social reform program led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to open up cloistered lifestyles, shaped in part by a strict, conservative version of Sunni Islam that limits the role of women.

Prince Mohammed also seeks to diversify the economy away from oil as part of his proposed reforms. The crown prince will be the first Saudi leader since 1953 to hail from a new generation when he inherits the throne; his father Salman is the sixth brother in a row to serve as king.

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Sporting arenas around Saudi Arabia
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Sporting arenas around Saudi Arabia
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - SEPTEMBER 05: A general view of the stadium prior to the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Saudi Arabia and Japan at the King Abdullah Sports City on September 5, 2017 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)
Football supporters of Saudi's Al-Hillal club hold up blue, white and red cards forming an image during their team's match against Qatar's Al-Sadd club in the AFC Champions League football match on August 19, 2014, at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. AFP PHOTO /STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)
Emirati fans cheer for their team prior to the start of the Gulf Cup of Nations Group B football match between United Arab Emirates and Oman on November 14, 2014, at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd stadium in Riyadh. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Saudi policeman stands guard as his comrades keep watch while sitting between fans of al-Nasr club (L) and fans of al-Hilal (R) during their football match for the Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud championship at King Fahd stadium in Riyadh on February 8, 2008. AFP PHOTO/HASSAN AMMAR (Photo credit should read HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA- NOVEMBER 1: Goalkeeper ANTE COVIC of the Wanderers catches the ball in front of Al Hilal player during the Asian Champions League final match between Al Hilal and the Western Sydney Wanderers at at King Fahd international stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 1, 2014. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)
SAUDI ARABIA - JUNE 01: Royal walkway at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in June, 2002. (Photo by Yves GELLIE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
The King Fahd International Stadium (Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)
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The kingdom adheres to an austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, which bans gender mixing, concerts and cinemas. Women are required to receive permission from a male guardian to obtain passports or leave the country.

Some of the social aspects of the reforms have been criticised by some clerics and Saudis on social media.

Saudi authorities are also starting to reform areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy, such as education, courts and the law, and have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component or pre-date Islam.

Prince Mohammed told businessmen and reporters at a major investment forum last week that the country would cleave to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

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