Saudi women in soc­cer stands

Toronto Sun - - NEWS -

MOSCOW — In jeans, head­scarves and veils, dozens of Saudi women draped in their coun­try’s green flag and sport­ing match­ing face paint streamed into Moscow’s Luzh­niki Sta­dium on Thurs­day to sup­port their na­tional team against Rus­sia in the World Cup’s open­ing match.

More im­por­tantly, per­haps, they were pro­ject­ing the im­age of a new Saudi Ara­bia in which they are slowly emerg­ing from decades of harsh in­equal­ity as part of am­bi­tious re­forms un­der­taken by the coun­try’s young crown prince.

The con­ser­va­tive king­dom where much of life is governed by Is­lamic laws shook off some of its most op­pres­sive prac­tices against women this year. Women were al­lowed into sports sta­di­ums in Jan­uary for the first time to watch soc­cer matches, although they were seg­re­gated in the stands, stick­ing to the “fam­ily sec­tion” away from all-male crowds else­where.

Saudi au­thor­i­ties have also lifted the world’s only ban on women driv­ing, a de­ci­sion that will go into ef­fect June 24 and end women’s long stand­ing com­plaints about hav­ing to hire costly male driv­ers, use taxis or rely on male rel­a­tives.

“If we are to talk big pic­ture, then I say that women com­ing to Rus­sia to sup­port the na­tional team is another step to­ward equal­ity,” said Nada Al­tuwai­jry, a Bri­tish-ed­u­cated me­dia ex­pert from the Saudi cap­i­tal Riyadh who says she has been pas­sion­ate about soc­cer since she was age 12.

Reem Al-Muteiry came to Moscow with her mother and sib­lings, courtesy of an all-paid trip of­fered by the king­dom’s high­est sports body. Wear­ing a flow­ing robe and a hi­jab, the 25-year-old civil ser­vant said she cared lit­tle about soc­cer.

“But I came all the way here for the sake of our na­tional team,” she said. “The pres­ence of Saudi women here should be a source of pride for both the king­dom and the team.”

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