Ahli in a 5-0 romp as Saudi women attend game for first time


JEDDAH — Al-Ahli routed Al-Batin 5-0 in the Saudi Premier Soccer League match at the King Abdullah International Stadium (Al Jawhara Stadium) here on a day when history was made with the Kingdom allowing women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match Friday.

Women supporters, all wearing the traditional abaya, arrived well ahead of Friday's kick-off in the Jeddah stadium saw families and women, some in sunglasses, arrive to savor the competition and the on field experience for the first time. Ahli did not disappoint as they turned in a clinical display that impressed the connoisseurs, most of them women enjoying a firsthand view, of the clash.

Braces from Muhanad Asiri (2nd, 26th penalty) and Salman Al Moashir (22nd and 42nd) enabled Ahli to switch ends with a 4-0 halftime advantage and the Jeddah side eased off a bit in the second half till a late 82nd minute strike by Ioannis Fetfatzidis rounded off the match scoreline.

Alone or accompanied by their families, many women sat in reserved seats in Jeddah's stadium. Glass panels were set up to separate men supporters from the women and family section of the stadium.

Saleh Al-Ziadi brought his three daughters to the game. "My daughters still don't believe this is happening. They have not yet realized they will be cheering their favorite team inside the stadium," he said.

Enthusiasm for the historic encounter began well before the scheduled 8:00 .p.m. kick-off.

Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, said she was proud and looking forward to the match. "This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change," she told AFP.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, called Friday a "historic day in the Kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes". "I am proud and extremely happy for this development," she said.

Noura Bakharji, another Jeddah resident, said she always felt bitter when her brothers came back from stadiums to tell her about the excitement of watching football matches in person.

"I always watched games on TV while my brothers went to the stadiums... I asked myself repeatedly 'Why I can't go?'" she told AFP. "Today, things have changed. It's a day of happiness and joy."

Hours before the game, Saudi clubs were encouraging women to attend through tweets on social media. Some clubs are offering special abayas in team colors.

Saudi Arabian Airlines announced prizes of free tickets for five families who want to travel between cities to watch games. And a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in the United States tweeted her delight at the development.

"This is more than women's rights: today's match between Al-Ahli and Al-Batin, and the ones to follow, are opportunities for families to come together and enjoy KSA's national sport — soccer!" Fatimah Baeshen wrote on Twitter. "I'm rooting for the ladies — enjoy!" — With inputs from AFP