The teams will be battling it out for unprecedented bragging rights, a shiny championship cup, and a prize of SR500,000 ($133,000).
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Taking place in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam, the tournament has been lauded as an important step for the Saudi sports world, with many industry greats throwing their support behind the movement and discussing the event’s importance.
“This is a very happy day for all athletes, be they male or female. And based on what we’ve seen, and how beloved the sport of football is all over the Kingdom, I believe we will see many more of our sisters getting involved in professional sports,” he said.
Saudi sports reporter Riyan Al-Jidani shared a supportive message to the participating women in the tournament on his Twitter account as the tournament began.
“To all my dear sisters participating the Women’s Football League, your success in the tournament is a step in the right direction towards our dream of universality and representing our homeland to the outside world. Raising the flag on the field is a glory and pride,” he said.
Despite the tournament being delayed, as the pandemic prevented play beginning in March as originally planned, the players could only be held down for so long. Some even made use of the extra time, such as Maram Al-Butairi, general manager and head coach of the Eastern Flames FC, who are based in Dammam.
“We started preparations early, and the delay due to the pandemic actually worked in our favor. We were able to take more than two months to prepare for the tournament,” she said.
In a previous Arab News report, Amal Gimie, 26, an Eritrean midfielder for Jeddah’s Kings United, said that she has been playing soccer since she was eight years old.
“There was a match every weekend. The boys made us play as goalkeepers in the beginning, and in 2002, when I first saw the Women’s World Cup, it sparked my passion to learn more about this sport,” said Gimie, who is also a management information systems graduate. She joined her first female football team, Challenge, in Riyadh in 2014.
“It was the first time I joined something organized. I was happy to be playing but at the same time I felt as though it was an unreachable goal (to become a professional athlete or join an official league), I felt like I was growing older without achieving anything.”
While none of the matches are to be broadcast, it didn’t stop fans from expressing their excitement on social media about the tournament.
Wejdan Al-Shammary, who grew up playing sports in school, said that she would have tried for a team “in a heartbeat” if she had been just a few years younger.
“I played both basketball and football on my high school teams. I was a complete sports nut, but it makes me happy to know that even if it’s too late for me to achieve those dreams, there’s a chance now for young Saudi girls that I never had,” she said.
Najla Ahmed, a 16-year-old from Riyadh who plays on her school’s football team, said that she was going to try for one of the local football clubs next year.
“I’ll be 17, and therefore eligible, and I would love to see anyone try and stop me,” she said.
Both of them also hope to see more sports being added to the roster in the future.
“Football is just the beginning. I would love to see more focus on other sports, as well. Basketball, tennis, maybe even competitive swimming,” said Al-Shammary. “I’m sure we have so many potential Olympians among us who just need their talents nurtured.”
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