Saudi Arabia to launch women's football league

Molly McElwee
Saudi women were granted access to stadiums for the first time in 2018 - Saudi women were granted access to stadiums for the first time in 2018 - AFP

Saudi Arabia will launch a national female football league in March, just two years since a ban on women attending football stadiums was lifted

The government-funded league was announced on Monday, in the latest move from the ultra-conservative kingdom to lessen the restrictions on women. Over a year since women were allowed to drive in the country, and a few months since women were given the right to travel unaccompanied, the new football league is a step in the right direction for a country where over 73 per cent of women were found to be inactive in a 2015 report. 

The league, organised by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) will take place at a regional level, before winners from each city compete for the WFL Champions Cup. The SFA confirmed the competition will include a prize fund of around £100,000. Saudi Arabia has never competed at a women's World Cup, and the Saudi Sports for All Federation [SFA], organisers of the new league, hoped this would improve participation.

"The launch of the [league] bolsters women's participation in sports at the community level and will generate increased recognition for women's sports achievements," the government-run SFA said. 

But with women's rights organisers still facing persecution and arrest in the country, campaigners say there is much more to be done.

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Women still largely lack autonomy, requiring permission from male family members for things like opening a business or even getting a divorce. Saudi Arabia only allowed female representation at an Olympics after pressure from the International Olympic Committee in 2012, and many girls still do not have access to physical education.