The Saudis of football and that 2-0 in the Seychelles. “A historic victory”

Of Marta Serafini

The international debut of the women’s team. Pel’s message. The critics: propaganda

The compliments came from Pel himself, via Twitter. I want to congratulate the whole team. Today is not just a historic day for you but for all those who love football. Recipients of such honor, the girls of the Saudi women’s national team who beat the Seychelles 2-0 in their first international victory on Sunday in the Maldives.

At the National Stadium in Mal there was no lack of sporting emotions with the first goal scored by Mubarak Al Bandari and with Maryam Al Tamimi who doubled the lead from the spot four minutes into the second half. For the occasion, the players of the ultra-conservative country wore the traditional green shirt with white shorts but without the veil and long pants, as happens instead during matches at home.

While waiting to return to the field to face the Maldivian hosts, also satisfied the coach, lMonika Staab from Germany, a veteran of women’s football and former coach of the national teams of Bahrain and Qatar. We are facing a historic moment for Saudi women’s football. I invite the players to enjoy it. This is just the beginning of what is to come, Staab confidently said.

A step towards gender equality? Women’s sport in Saudi Arabia has been a controversial topic for many years due to the ban imposed by conservative Islamic religious authorities. The turning point for young Saudis came with the 2012 London Olympics, when two athletes were admitted to the Games, marathon runner and middle distance runner Sarah Attar and judoka Wojdan Shaherkani. A participation – especially in the case of Shaherkani – repeatedly questioned, since the international Judo federation did not want him to compete with the hijab. And that required exhausting negotiations before reaching the compromise of a specially designed veil with velcro closure to avoid the risk of suffocation during the race.

Then, in 2013, the first sports center dedicated to girls arrived in the coastal city of Khobar and finally in 2017 Physical education for female students was authorized, which until then had been practiced almost secretly.

The Riyadh women’s national football team, really recently founded, in 2020, with the creation of an ad hoc championship defined by the political establishment as a great step towards modernization, only one stage of a relatively young path.

And part of the pinkwashing operation that accompanies Vision 2030,
reform plan wanted by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, suspected among other things of having the opponent Jamal Khashoggi killed and of having ordered the detention of hundreds of opponents, including women activists.

For critics of the Saudi regime it is risky to say that those two goals on Sunday evening could change the fate of an entire country and its women. Before 2018, the Saudis could only watch football and not at the stadium. Only in 2017 were they allowed to drive a car, and have recently been allowed to participate in theL’hajjthe traditional pilgrimage to Mecca, without a male relative to act as guardian and guardian, provided that they leave as a group. It is no coincidence then that in the Global Gender Gap Report, introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to provide a picture of the gender gap around the world, Saudi Arabia occupies – in 2021 – the 147th place out of 156 countries. Soon then, far too soon, to talk about victory.


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