They already have Cristiano Ronaldo, they want to have a women’s World Cup. Saudi Arabia is taking the sports world by storm, especially the discipline in which there is a lot of money. Even among sports federations and players, there are comments that this is an attempt to whiten the image. Stadiums for petrodollars will not change the culture and Saudi law, according to which a woman can practice sports, but not without the consent of a man. Even the biggest party won’t change that.
This is not an absurd, dark joke. Saudi Arabia, where women are still second-class citizens, wants to organize the Women’s World Cup. – It’s exciting. It’s every sports fan’s dream. I say this as a football fan. The opportunity to aim so high, the opportunity to organize a football festival, is the dream of every resident of Saudi Arabia, says Amad Albalawi from the Ministry of Sports of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi women have only been able to play football for three years. In 2020, authorities allowed the creation of an amateur women’s football league. Previously, they couldn’t even enter the stands. Only in 2018 were they allowed to enter specially designated so-called family sectors at three stadiums. – This is great pride for us. Being able to watch matches is one of our most basic rights. Many girls love football. I’m very happy that they will finally be able to enter the stadium, admits Sarah Al-Yafia’i, a football fan from Saudi Arabia.
At the beginning of the year, when the “Visit Saudi” organization promoting travel to Saudi Arabia became a sponsor of this year’s Women’s World Cup, the hosts of the championship – Australia and New Zealand – demanded explanations from FIFA. Female players also protested. One of the most successful soccer players in the world, American Alex Morgan, said that the Saudis sponsoring the women’s championship is “bizarre.” Ultimately, FIFA gave up on the controversial sponsor.
The Saudis are pumping billions of dollars into football. Saudi Arabia wants to organize the men’s World Cup in 2034. Tempted by huge earnings, the best footballers in the world, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, agreed to play in the Saudi league. What the Saudis are doing is the so-called sportswashing – whitewashing their image through sports. Thanks to football, the world will forget about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi ordered by Prince Muhammad bin Salman and the violation of women’s rights.
Women are second-class citizens
In most Muslim countries, women’s sports are treated as a whim. By allowing women to practice boxing, for example, the Saudis want to show the world that they are progressive. – When we first started offering this sport, attendance was really low because boxing was thought to be a men-only sport. Gradually, when our women started exercising, they noticed that boxing gave them strength and increased self-confidence, says Fatima Al-Naim, a boxing trainer from Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia still remains one of the most conservative countries in the Islamic world. Women are prohibited from disobeying their husbands, including refusing sex. The law allows physical violence against them. Burqas, hijabs and niqabs are obligatory.
The European Parliament reminded us how difficult life is for women in Muslim countries, which awarded this year’s Sakharov Prize posthumously to Jina Mahsa Amini and the Iranian Women, Life, Freedom Movement. A year ago, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman was arrested for allegedly violating strict facial veil laws. She died as a result of being beaten by policemen. Her death sparked violent protests. – The brutal murder of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini was a turning point. It started a women-led movement that is making history. The world heard the cries: woman, life, freedom – said Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament. At the beginning of October, the Iranian women’s rights defender Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She is serving a prison sentence in a prison in Tehran, to which she was sentenced for “spreading propaganda against her own country.”
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Main photo source: Reuters