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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Saudis Increase Security at Jeddah Stadium for Fear That a Woman Might Sneak In

Authorities have intensified security around a stadium in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to ensure no woman could sneak in to watch a football match.

Jeddah Stadium - no room for women
Manama, Bahrain: Saudi Arabian authorities have intensified security around a stadium in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to ensure no woman could sneak in to watch a football match.

The much-awaited match between local team Al Ittihad and the Riyadh-based squad of Al Hilal in the Crown Prince Cup competition was a crowd puller, but the authorities wanted to make sure no woman could enter the 60,000-seat Jawhara Stadium at the King Abdullah Sports City.

Security was beefed up at the main gates and spectators had to show their identity cards to be allowed inside, Saudi daily Makkah reported on Wednesday.

The unusual step was taken after a woman was able this month to sneak past stadium guards to watch a match between Al Ittihad and Al Shabab before she was spotted and referred to the police for questioning. Actually, she was arrested, and, I believe, is still in jail.

Woman in disguise watching soccer. Heaven forbid!
She told investigators that she was not aware of any ban on women attending games.

The woman, in her 20s, said she did not have any problem buying her ticket online and that she arrived early and chose a place where she would not be in the middle of a crowd.

Police spokesman Atti al-Qurashi said security spotted her at the stadium "deliberately disguised" in male attire to avoid detection, reported the state-linked news website Twasul.

Okaz reported Sunday that police questioned the woman, who is in her twenties, for "impersonating" a man by wearing pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses. Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil known as the niqab and all women are required to wear a loose black dress known as the abaya in public.

The paper said the woman has been in police custody since Friday and is being held at a center for girls in the western province of Mecca. No charges have been raised so far.

City of Jeddah on the Red Sea
Ultraconservative Saudi clerics shun female access to exercise and women's teams are not part of the kingdom's federation that oversees sports. Women often struggle to find facilities to train and are not allowed to attend matches in stadiums.

Saudi Arabia has a very strict policy regarding female attendance at sports matches. Permissions are needed to allow foreign women to watch the matches in which their home teams play. There is talk of assigning a section of the stadium for 'families'. This would be a good time for that to happen.

Football is highly popular in the kingdom and fans follow with great interest the British, Italian and Spanish leagues.