Wednesday 31 May 2023, 14:00

Women’s football in Saudi Arabia continuing to flourish

  • Saudi Arabia women’s national team entered the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking for the first time in March this year

  • Member Association see themselves as a ‘role model for many other developing countries’

  • League now has over 50,000 players and participating 3,600 schools

Monika Staab, Technical Director for the Saudi Arabian women’s national team started the journey. Now, having handed the reins to Finnish coach Rosa Lappi-Seppala, Staab may no longer be front and centre of Saudi Arabian women’s football. But her influence is unquestionable on a story that continues to write more and more chapters. The women’s national team hit a landmark moment in March this year when they entered the FIFA/Coca-Cola ranking in 171st place. Almost immediately the challenge was set to successfully qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup™.

“It was an incredible journey when I was the head coach,” reflected Staab. “I was a part of history. The first official international FIFA match in the Maldives against the Seychelles. And we won! It was just amazing how these girls were playing. “We had eight hundred applicants for the try-outs, from which we selected thirty-five in the end. It was a long journey to find the best players. I think all these players - the twenty-five who went to the Maldives - had the greatest moment of their lives.” Prior to her role at the helm in Saudi Arabia, Staab had travelled the world, helping to develop women’s football in no fewer than 85 countries. The evolution of the game’s development in Saudi Arabia has had an impact she feels extends far beyond the nation’s borders.

“It has an impact on all Arab countries, all Muslim countries all over the world. It shows that this is possible. We are going out into the world and showing that women’s football is possible in this region. It’s a good example for everyone. I feel like now we are almost a role model for many other developing countries” said the German-born globetrotter. “I worked for FIFA for many years as an Instructor and I know how important it is that FIFA is offering all these [women’s football development] programmes. We don’t just want women’s football to be played in Saudi Arabia, we want it to be played in all of FIFA’s Member Associations.” Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) Women’s Football Director Aalia Al Rachid has witnessed the phenomenal growth of women’s football first hand. Not only has there been the establishment of the national team, but since 2019, a Premier League and First Division have both launched, along with a league involving 50,000 girls, and approximately 3,600 participating schools.

“Today, we have four regional training centres in the Kingdom” continued Al Rachid. “We have also worked on developing female teachers by offering forty courses to prepare them for training and developing female players in schools. We now have three active national teams and twenty-three people in the department working to develop the women's football pyramid.” SAFF General Secretary Ibrahim Alkassim is delighted that Saudi Arabia has become a home for football, with SAFF also confirming their application to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026. “There is a bit of a challenge within the Saudi Arabian Football Federation as to whether the men or women will win the World Cup first. “Saudi Arabia remains a great home for football competitions. We will see the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia later this year and we welcome all the participants and visitors to come here and see it up close.”

Key objectives

FIFA will achieve its objectives by executing a five-pronged strategy to:

Govern & lead … strive for gender balance

Every MA will have one spot on its Executive Committee dedicated to the interests of women and by 2026 have at least one woman seated, while by 2022, at least one-third of FIFA committee members will be women. Strengthen and expand the Female Leadership Development Programme and improve professionalisation and regulatory oversight.

Educate and empower

Address and bring focus to specific social and health issues and reach out to NGOs and government stakeholders to develop sustainable projects that improve the lives of women.

Develop and grow … on and off the pitch

By 2022, have women’s football strategies in 100% of member associations, and by 2026, double the number of MAs with organised youth leagues. Expand football in school programmes, create elite academies and increase the number of qualified coaches and referees, vastly improving access to the game for girls.

Showcase the game … improve women’s competitions

Optimise regional qualifying for FIFA competitions and develop those events to build top-level players at a young age. Advance and launch new international competitions and improve the professional club framework.

Communicate & commercialise … broaden exposure & value

Advance awareness of top female athletes and raise the profile of women’s football by enhancing engagement, harnessing technology, implementing a distinct brand strategy and using role models and ambassadors as well as a dedicated Women’s Legends Programme. By 2026, launch a Women’s Football Commercial Programme.