The Saudis have been turning up the volume in Qatar. There have been more fans from Argentina than from any other country. You can easily spot a tourist in Doha by their emerald green clothing.
Soccer is incredibly popular in Saudi Arabia, with men’s and women’s teams drawing massive crowds. The stadiums are always packed for games, and the energy level is usually through the roof.
But what sets a game apart in Saudi Arabia is when the women show up to cheer on their favorite team. As soon as they walk into the stadium, the excitement level goes up 10 notches.
These ladies know how to make some serious noise, cheering and singing along with their fellow spectators. It’s truly an amazing experience to witness firsthand!
While it may seem unnecessary to point out this, the Saudi audience in Qatar includes both men and women. On Saturday afternoon, around one in twenty people entering the Education City stadium were female, the same number as the women coming to support Poland. One could never have imagined this happening before.
The Saudi royal family issued a decree three years ago as part of a series of reforms that permitted women to travel abroad without the approval of a male guardian. The role of guardian shifts from father to a spouse as a woman matures, yet the guardianship system persists and affects her throughout her life.
Some people might be surprised that women are allowed to attend sports events in Saudi Arabia – but this shows how far we have come as a society lately. There has been a big push towards gender equality over recent years, led by young Saudis who want to see change happen fast.
Saudi Girls attending sporting events may seem small, but it’s one of many important steps forward that will help us build a more inclusive future for everyone living here.
However, its scope has narrowed, making it possible for citizens of this neighboring country, obsessed with football, to attend the World Cup.
It was challenging to engage the female fans in conversation before the game. Business cards promising to talk later — specifically about football — were returned after being respectfully declined.
A niqab-clad woman agreed to give an interview. Aliya was excited to see her national team play for the first time, and she said, “Inshallah we will win.”
“I am looking forward to the cheering and the people in there, the whole experience,” she remarked.
Her husband took over. “This is the World Cup – this is what it means,” he said. “Saudi will go to the next stage, we will have female teams and a female league. Our new president supports everything and ladies come first.”
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation:
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation is led by Yasser al-Misehal, a former leader of the Saudi men’s professional league and a Fifa disciplinary committee member. It’s true that under his watch, women’s sports in the country have evolved quickly.
Just over a year ago, Saudi Arabia launched its first-ever nationwide tournament for women’s club sides, the Saudi Women’s Premier League. Then, in the spring of this year, something even more remarkable happened: Saudi Arabia’s women’s national team played their first international match, defeating the Seychelles 2-0 in a friendly in Mauritius.
This was the first step on a suggested path into the official Fifa classification.
Shortly after my conversation with Aliya, Mariam Meshikhes and her friend strolled by. Mariam, a fan from the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, showed up to her first game decked out in a light green headscarf and a replica Saudi Arabia away shirt. She was not at all reticent to discuss the matter.
“This is my first World Cup, this is my first game I have ever attended in a stadium for the Saudi national team – this has been my dream since I was a teenager,” she said.
“I have watched all the games. As a teenager I watched all of them and I was just wishing to be there and I can’t believe that this is the day.”
Watching the Saudi girls cheer on their national team at the World Cup was a sight to behold! They were loud and enthusiastic, making sure everyone knew just how proud they were of their country, and they looked fabulous too.
These Saudi girls really stood out in an arena full of traditionally-clad women from all over the world. Way to go noise watch! From waving flags passionately to sporting face paint or traditional dresses, singing along to chants loudly, or simply clapping enthusiastically, these Saudi girls brought the noice watch.