Saudi women score right to watch men's soccer in stadiums

JEDDAH (Reuters) - Women in black abayas and fluorescent orange vests stood at the gates at King Abdullah Stadium, welcoming people into the family section that, for the first time in Saudi Arabia, allowed women to attend a men's soccer match.

As the two teams al-Ahli and al-Batin faced each other in the city of Jeddah, women showed up to their first public sporting event in the Kingdom to support the sides with their spouses, children and friends.

The General Sports Authority announced in October that stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh will be set up to accommodate families starting in 2018.

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Saudi women attend men's soccer game for first time
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Saudi women attend men's soccer game for first time
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Al-Ahli's Giannis Fetfatzidis vies for the ball with Al-Batin's Bander Nasser (L) during their football match in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Al-Ahli's Giannis Fetfatzidis (L) vies for the ball with Al-Batin's Maan Khodari during their football match in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli attend their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli queue at an entrance for families and women at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018, ahead of their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli arrive at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018, ahead of their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli arrive at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018, ahead of their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli queue at an entrance for families and women at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018, ahead of their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli arrive at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on January 12, 2018, ahead of their teams football match against Al-Batin in the Saudi Pro League. Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Honestly this decision should have happened a long time ago," said Muneera al-Ghamdi, an attendee. "But thank god that it came in the right time, and hopefully what's to come will be even more beautiful for women."

The decision to allow women to attend a mixed public sporting event is one of many changes the country has undergone in recent months, hailed as proof of a new progressive trend in the deeply conservative Muslim Kingdom.

On Thursday, Jeddah held Saudi Arabia's first car exhibition aimed at women, a few months after Saudi Arabia announced it would grant them the right to drive..

A soccer match on Saturday in the capital Riyadh will also be welcoming women fans.

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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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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, has been hailed as the face of these changes.

Many young Saudis regard his recent ascent to power as proof their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old and blocked women's progress.

"Today the percentage of those who participate in exercise and sports is only 13 percent," said Hayfaa al-Sabban, who heads a sport organization.

"We aim god willing to raise it to 40 percent by 2030, through several events, and today's is one of these events."

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10. Sergio Garcia

Garcia, a golfer from Spain, was thrust into the spotlight in April when he won the Masters Tournament in a sudden-death playoff. The win was his first at a major championship. 

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9. Carmelo Anthony

Anthony, who spent seven seasons with the New York Knicks, was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder over the 2017 offseason after demanding a trade due to conflicts with Knicks president Phil Jackson. 

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8. Lonzo Ball

Ball was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His father, LaVar, and brother, LiAngelo, also made headlines this year.

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7. Aaron Judge

The young New York Yankees slugger boasted an impressive 52 home runs on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

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6. Tony Romo

The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback officially retired in April and took up a new job as a color analyst with CBS Sports.

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5. Paul George

The former Indiana Pacers star was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in July.

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4. LiAngelo Ball

Lonzo Ball's younger brother made headlines when he was arrested for shoplifting in China. He then left UCLA without playing a game to pursue a professional basketball career overseas.

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3. Aaron Boone

The former New York Yankees infielder was hired as the team's new manager in December. 

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2. Gordon Hayward

After an active free agency when he was pursued by multiple teams, Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics in July. During the team's first game of the season, Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle injury that will likely keep him sidelined for the entirety of the season.

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1. Floyd Mayweather

Mayweather extended his undefeated streak as a boxer when he took down UFC fighter Conor McGregor in what was called "The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History."

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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(Reporting by video team in Jeddah, Writing by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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