Saudi young women dream of playing football

Experts say if women can penetrate the male-dominated football bodies, official permits will soon follow

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The appointment of Arwa Mutabagani to the Board of Directors of the Saudi Equestrian Federation (SEF) has encouraged Saudi sportswomen to try and enter other sports federations in the Kingdom. One of the sports on top of the list is the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF).

Experts say if women can penetrate the male-dominated body that administers the country’s club competitions and national teams, official permits to play football and setting up sports facilities for women will soon follow, Al-Madinah daily reported.

Currently, women are allowed to participate in the secondary committees of the federation such as sports medicine, ethics and information and statistics committees, but they have no presence in the primary committees of the federation. Female sports journalist Hana Allouni said the lack of a female presence in the basic committees shows that women are not familiar with the rules and regulations of football.

She also pointed out the importance of Saudi sportswomen’s presence under the General Presidency for Youth Welfare (GPYW) in affiliated committees concerned with women’s sports or Women’s Sports Administration.

“This will be similar to the remaining Gulf countries. Through the committees, women’s presence can be achieved in different federations and sports, like football, basketball and volleyball. What is required is the existence of an administration for women’s sports activities so that they can actually take part in sports in the Kingdom,” she said.

Reema Abdullah, the first Saudi woman to raise the Olympic Torch, said the lack of female representation in the committees of SAFF is evidence that women are not recognized by the country’s football authority.

“I strongly support women’s presence in SAFF, but unfortunately we don’t have a foundation for women’s sports nor do we have any recognition of sportswomen by the official bodies. This has led to schools ignoring women’s sports due to a general lack of awareness on the importance of the game.”

She said it is important for women and those interested in the game to obtain support from the GPYW including an official license to play the game.

“After this, women’s clubs can be established as they will develop and promote the game. The Equestrian Federation experience has given women the green light for participation in sports. This chance was appreciated by many personalities in society. We need intellectual and financial support to help us develop ourselves and our capabilities so that we can participate effectively,” she added.

Rawh Abdullah, captain of Al-Tahaddi football team and director of the office for “Huwa Wa Hiya” (He and She) newspaper in Riyadh, stressed the importance of women’s participation in SAFF due to a dire need to practice the sport under an official body that will support women.

“All the activities being carried out at present are due to personal efforts. An official administration to follow up women’s activities in sports cannot exist unless it is under the Saudi federation, as it will shed light on their needs and concerns. I believe women interested in football are there but our demand is to be given the chance so that we will be heard by officials and society.”

Lina Almaeena, captain of Jeddah United women’s basketball team, said she was surprised women are still not members of SAAF even though they have a presence in the Equestrian Federation. Almaeena said: “After the presence of women in the committees of the Equestrian Federation, I expected them to be in other committees, like football. But that has not happened till now. Despite this, I support women’s presence in SAFF if they have the experience and knowledge of the game and its conditions and laws because that will be a big plus for the game.”