NEWS
30/10/2017 15:43 GMT | Updated 30/10/2017 16:00 GMT

Saudi Arabia To Allow Women To Attend Sports Events For The First Time

A small, but significant step for womankind.

Saudi Arabia will for the first time allow women to attend sports events in another step towards opening public spaces to them.

There will be special sections prepared at three stadiums from early next year.

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

FAYEZ NURELDINE via Getty Images
Women walk in the Saudi capital of Riyadh (file picture) 

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 is being led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was placed first-in-line to the throne in June following an unexpected shuffle by King Salman.

He has inferred he will relax lifestyles and open up the country’s 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.

Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen as the driving force behind the recent reforms 

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 aspire to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today. We will end extremism very soon,” he said.

In April the Prince inferred the era of extreme religious conservatism in Saudi Arabia is close to being over. Speaking to the Washington Post, he said: “I’m young. Seventy per cent of our citizens are young. We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now.”

He claims the country’s branch of extreme religious conservatism occurred as a reaction to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the seizure of the Makkah mosque by radicals later that year.