Saudi stadiums open for women in a first to watch soccer

Letting women into sports stadiums is one of a series of gender reforms occurring in Saudi Arabia

Female football fans entered a stadium in Saudi Arabia's western city of Jeddah on Friday, becoming the first women to attend a football match in the conservative kingdom.

Saudi women were in the stands to watch Al-Ahli versus Al-Batin face each other in the city of Jeddah on Friday, just months before the national team kick off the Federation Internationale de Football Association 2018 World Cup against host Russia, in the opening match of the tournament on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Although they were placed in the "family section", segregated from the male-only section, and had a separate entrance, parking lot and prayer area, they were allowed to cheer, take pictures and enjoy the action on the pitch just like men have been doing for decades.

Ahead of the game, clubs took to Twitter to encourage women in attending the local match offering them traditional robes in team colours.

Earlier on Friday, ahead of the football game, there was another small sign of change: the country's first auto showroom dedicated to female customers was opened.

Among the first were a woman accompanied by a younger female and a girl. "I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change", she told the AFP news agency.

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While many supported and welcomed the decision to allow women into stadiums, others spoke out against it.

Some used the hashtag to write that women's place should be in the home, focusing on their children and preserving their faith, and not at a stadium where male crowds frequently curse and chant raucously.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, has been hailed as the face of these changes.

Set to inherit a country where more than half the population is under 25 years old and hungry for change, the young crown prince has looked to boost his popularity by curbing almost four decades of deeply entrenched ultraconservative influence.

The easing of the strict gender segregation was announced in October 2017 which also, for the first time, allowed women to drive.

"Today, you brought happiness to every Saudi family and woman who attended the first game", Reema Bandar Al-Saud, a deputy at the General Sports Authority and part of the Saudi Royal family, told CNN.

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