Wednesday 12 January 2022, 10:30

Saudi Arabia stages first-ever nationwide women's league

  • Sixteen teams take part in country’s first nationwide women’s league

  • Women’s football in Saudi Arabia has taken huge strides since 2019

  • Progress is in line with FIFA’s global strategy for women’s football

Women's football in Saudi Arabia has taken another significant step forward with the successful staging and completion of the country's first nationwide league, offering more encouragement for girls who want to play the sport in the kingdom. The establishment of the league is part of a wider strategy for women’s football in Saudi Arabia that also includes the development of coaches, referees and players and the creation of a women's national team, with the ultimate goal of qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup™.

“I hope that women’s football will move forward in Saudi Arabia in general, and that women will be able to play football abroad, just like the men's teams," said Seba Rabea Tawfiq, a player for semi-finalists Jeddah Eagles. "If God wishes, we will make progress as female players and represent our home country like women elsewhere. Then, football will become ordinary for girls as it is for boys.” Al-Mamlaka, from Al Khobar in the Eastern Province, claimed the title by beating Challenge at the King Abdullah Sports City while Al-Yamanah beat Jeddah Sports in the third-place play-off. The league kicked off in November and featured 16 teams, divided by region into three groups. Eight teams then progressed to the knockout stages which were held in Jeddah this month.

Although women's competitions were held the Kingdom in 2019 and 2020, the latter known as the Women’s Community Football League, this was the first truly national league played on full-size pitches. "Starting the league had been a goal since we started working alongside government bodies," said Ibrahim Al Kassim, the Secretary-General of the Saudi Football Federation (SAFF). “Today, the dream has been achieved. Today, we saw joy among women, not only from the women who won the title but also from all of the women, who participated in the championship because participating in this competition was a dream for them.” Saudi Arabia set up a Department of Women's Football Development in 2019 and since then has been received encouragement and support from FIFA. During his visit to the kingdom last year, FIFA President Gianni Infantino stressed the importance of developing women's football in Saudi Arabia in line with FIFA's global strategy for women’s football.

In November, Monika Staab of Germany was appointed as the first-ever head coach of the Saudi women’s team who are due to play their first friendly in February. “We are very thankful for FIFA and for all the help, all the support. Even out of hours, texting, asking questions, and of course there is great support from Mr. Gianni [Infantino] when he came to Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and visited the women’s national team at their training, and he gave a very inspirational speech for them,” said Al Kassim. Adwa Alarifi, Deputy of Strategic Planning and Investment at the Ministry of Sport, said there was a clear message to girls and women who wanted to be involved in football, and not just as players. “There are many girls and women who are passionate about football,” she said.

“Today, we tell them that the chance is there for them as players, coaches, referees or administrators. We will work hard with them to represent Saudi Arabia in the best possible way so that they can achieve the best.” Lamia Bahian, Head of Women’s Football at the SAFF, offered more motivation. “My message to the girls who are playing football or want to join and play football is always dream big and play with passion and put your heart on the field and into training," she said. "There will be a lot of challenges along the way, but football is the greatest thing that will ever happen to a girl or to a woman. Growing up playing football I think added so much to me, and I encourage all girls and women to play football. And I’m talking about personality-wise, character-wise, on-field, off-field, and talking just about playing the sport. So, just go out there and take the ball.”