Saudi Arabia has launched its own Women’s Football League (WFL), in a move seen as an advancement for women’s rights in the Kingdom. The WFL was launched at an event in the capital Riyadh on Monday.
The President of Saudi Arabia’s Sports for All Federation (SFA), Prince Khaled Bin Al-Waleed Bin Talal told Arab News that, “The development of the WFL came about because we understood there was a need for community-level football for women.” The league, he pointed out, is the first of many community sports opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia. “It will serve as a great model in terms of league infrastructure and inclusion matrix, contributing to Saudi Vision 2030 and the Quality of Life programme.”
The WFL is fully funded by the SFA and is a nationwide league for women players aged 17 and over. In its first season, it will have a presence only in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam in which matches will be played to determine regional champions. A prize of 500,000 Saudi Riyals ($133,267) awaits the winning team.
For their “boundless support” for the initiative, Prince Khaled paid tribute to King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and the chairman of the kingdom’s General Sports Authority, Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal.
The WFL, said Prince Khaled, is a major and transformative move toward the Kingdom’s goal to achieve Vision 2030. “The league is one more major leap forward for the future of our country, our health, our youth and our ambitions to see every athlete recognised and nurtured to their full capability.”
In its drive to fulfil Vision 2030 – which aims to modernise the Kingdom and diversify its economy away from limited natural resources like oil and towards a more sustainable future – Saudi Arabia has been implementing a series of major reforms over the past few years, under the authority of the Crown Prince, who is the de facto ruler. The launch of a women’s football league, once thought to be impossible due to the strict laws and customs against women exercising or playing in public, is one such reform.
The launch comes just weeks after the Saudi government announced its first female military unit, enabling women to be active in the armed forces. Other social reforms include lifting the ban on women driving, banning obligatory gender segregation and holding music concerts in Riyadh.
Despite such moves being made, however, the Kingdom has been criticised for using the social aspects of the changes to cover up the lack of political and government reform.