Does the soccer hype in Saudi Arabia give girls extra freedom? | EUROtoday

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As of: April 21, 2024 5:48 a.m

Until not too long ago, girls had been banned from stadiums in Saudi Arabia. Women's soccer is now being promoted, there’s a league and the Women's World Cup is to be dropped at the nation. But that doesn't imply there may be equality.

Ramin Sina

A vibrant crimson soccer, a inexperienced discipline and a lady with black hair that she wears free. She juggles the ball in a public park in Saudi Arabia. It is a scene that was unimaginable for years within the ultra-conservative nation and that’s nonetheless not commonplace immediately.

The lady who dares to juggle the ball in Dammam Beach Park is named Saja Kamal. She rapidly has an viewers: three Saudi males stroll previous with puzzled expressions. They appear to have by no means seen something like this earlier than. Kamal performs for a couple of minutes, then the 34-year-old packs her issues. She doesn't really feel utterly snug with all of the stares: “I'm a little nervous, it's the first time I'm playing on a public pitch. But it's also a nice feeling.”

Women now allowed in stadiums

Kamal has liked soccer since childhood, she says. As a younger lady, she performed within the yard together with her brothers and cousins ​​and stored her fingers crossed for the nation's most profitable membership, Al-Hilal, from an early age. Saudi girls had been banned from visiting stadiums for a very long time, however Kamal nonetheless made it into the stands as a woman – dressed as a boy within the blue Al-Hilal outfit.

Now she will be able to merely purchase a ticket and go to the stadium as a lady. “Sometimes I can't believe what's happening in my country,” she says. “Then I have to pinch myself and say to myself: This is really happening. Women are on TV and playing football. Everything is official.”

A bit of extra rights for girls

Saudi Arabia is experiencing soccer hype – for ladies and men. There are posters everywhere in the nation of male superstars Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar, who moved to the Gulf final 12 months for astronomical salaries. They are meant to assist construct the lads's league right into a prime league on this planet.

And girls are additionally experiencing an upswing in soccer. There has been a nationwide girls's workforce for 2 years, a nationwide girls's league, video games are broadcast dwell, and ladies maintain excessive positions within the Saudi Football Association.

Lamia Bahaian, the affiliation's vp, watches the Jeddah derby, Al-Ahly towards Al-Ittihad, from the sidelines. She speaks of a dream that has come true: “The girls on the pitch are pioneers, they have come such a long way. We are very proud of them.” Bahaian says she feels the belief of the state management.

Behind Bahaian hangs a big image of the Saudi crown prince. Mohammed Bin Salman is omnipresent in Saudi Arabia and is a very powerful decision-maker. As a ruler, he’s prepared to reform and brutal on the similar time. Since he has been in command of the nation, girls have had slightly extra leeway. They have been allowed to drive since 2018 and the requirement to put on a scarf has been abolished.

Von equal rights far-off

But the nation is much from equal rights. A male guardian nonetheless usually decides what a Saudi lady can and can’t do. Reforms stay contradictory, girls's rights activists are locked away. There are stories of torture.

Anyone who dares to criticize resides dangerously. Critical voices can nearly solely be heard overseas. Lina Al-Hathloul has been residing in exile for years. Only there can she specific herself freely, she says. The Saudi girls's rights activist has combined emotions in regards to the soccer hype in her nation.

She says she is pleased for her football-loving compatriots. But footballers who don’t tackle grievances enable themselves for use as propaganda instruments by the Saudi regime: “If they stay quiet, they accept to represent the Saudi government. And they all look the other way when it comes to the oppression in Saudi Arabia. Nobody wants to know what's really happening.”

FIFA and Saudi Arabia – companions for years

The strongest in world soccer have lengthy been recurrently visiting Saudi Arabia. FIFA President Gianni Infantino additionally watched a girls's sport in Jeddah in December. The story of the Saudi girls footballers matches effectively into FIFA's narrative. Football as a improvement support for progress and freedom.

Infantino and Bin Salman, FIFA and Saudi Arabia, two have discovered one another – companions for a minimum of the subsequent decade. The Saudi oil firm Aramco is to turn out to be a significant sponsor of FIFA, and the awarding of the 2034 Men's World Cup to Saudi Arabia is taken into account sure. And, as Vice Association President Bahaian revealed on the sidelines of the ladies's sport in Jeddah: Saudi Arabia additionally appears to be contemplating a bid to host the Women's World Cup in 2035.

This would have been unimaginable only a few years in the past, says Saja Kamal within the seaside park in Dammam. But it's too late, she's now too outdated to make the nationwide workforce, she jokes. She needs to strive kicking one thing on the grass together with her vibrant crimson soccer ball extra usually sooner or later.