Saudi Arabia has launched its third women’s national team – the Under-17 squad – with 28 players already underway for a training camp in Riyadh this weekend.
The formation of the new team represents the latest sign of the rapid transformation of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia since the inception of a dedicated women’s football department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) in 2019. The squad will hope to follow in the footsteps of their senior counterparts who were recently crowned champions on their international friendly tournament debut and are well on their way to officially entering the FIFA Rankings List next month.
Today, there are two active professional leagues featuring 25 clubs and 523 players representing over 20 different nationalities. On an amateur level, almost 50,000 schoolgirls took part in the inaugural schools’ league across 4,700 teams across Saudi Arabia. Off the pitch, over 49 referees are officially registered and officiating league matches, with the first Saudi female referee – Anoud Al Asmari – breaking into FIFA’s licensed list last month. 1,000 licensed coaches are also nurturing young female talent across clubs, academies, schools and training centres in different cities across the country.
Marking a further milestone in the women’s game, Yasser Al Misehal, President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) said: “Saudi Arabia has become an ambitious supporter of sport to help inspire its young population to get active and to lead healthy lives. Our investments, which include grassroot facilities, partnerships and hosting global events, reflect the country’s rapid progress and transformation. Women and girls are central to everything we do in sport, and we are working to provide equal access to facilities, opportunities and careers, both on and off the pitch. In football that means our national teams regardless of male or female get equal pay in terms of daily allowance while on national duty, they train on the same pitches, stay in the same type of accommodation, and use the same equipment.
“The establishment of the U-17 team today is yet another sign of our strong commitment to women’s sports, and football in specific. Having been selected to host AFC Asian Cup 2027 in Saudi Arabia, our commitment now lies on our bid to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026. We invite everyone to visit our country to see for themselves how the country’s transformation is impacting daily lives and the role sport is playing across all areas of society.”
All sports have benefitted under Vision 2030, the transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is advancing Saudi Arabia, but sports for schoolgirls specifically have seen a massive boost with thousands grasping new opportunities that previously did not exist. As a result, today 37 federations have a women’s national team, with four female presidents leading them. There has also been a tremendous increase in sports participation across all levels, with over 200,000 girls practicing sports every week.
Mirroring much of the transformation happening across all areas in Saudi Arabia, the strong women’s football movement stems from a long-term strategy and commitment by the federation to grow interest and inspire participation at all levels of the women’s game, with unprecedented investments in grassroots, player development, coaching, refereeing and competitions.
The U-17 squad was chosen following try-outs across the country’s three Regional Training Centres in the capital city, Jeddah and Dammam, that welcome girls as young as 6-years-old, three times a week in an effort to increase participation and develop skills at an early age. The centres saw more than 300 talented players try out for the national selection. Some players were also chosen after being spotted playing in the inaugural Schools’ League launched at the end of last year.
In a boost to future development, five players from the 28 selected are already honing their skills in front of crowds every weekend in the Women’s Premier League. The Under-17 national team’s first training camp has just been completed, with the second confirm from the 9th – 11th February 2023.
Lamia Bahaian, Supervisor of the Women’s Football Department and board member at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation said: “We are fortunate to see such a big turnout for the try-outs and it really shows the passion these girls have for football. They want to play, watch and participate in any way – and while that certainly makes our job easier, it also adds an additional responsibility to give the women’s game the platform it deserves.
VISION 2030 – WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
- Vision 2030 is a unique transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is opening Saudi Arabia up to the world and under this vision there have been sweeping judicial reforms – objective to achieve stability, consistency & promote civil rights.
- Gender equality, and women’s rights, witnessed a quantum leap, with these reforms enshrining into law the right to freedom of movement and travel without restriction, cancelling the male legal guardianship system, over and above lifting the ban on women driving.
- One of the mandates of Vision 2030 is increasing the participation of women in the workplace. It aided in raising women’s participation in the workforce from 21% to 33% in its first 3 years.
- The Kingdom established reforms dedicated to the promotion of women’s engagement in economic development by setting an equal age for both genders, preventing gender discrimination in terms of wages, occupation, work field and hours, and enabling women to incorporate and practice commercial business without obtaining prior consent.
- The Ministry of Trade has taken a number of measures and programs to empower women in society and their participation in various aspects of economic life, with the aim of increasing their presence in economic and development activities in order to enhance sustainable development, and achieve the Kingdom’s vision 2030, which aims to activate women’s participation in the national economy including;
- Woman can start a business easily after removing the requirement for guardian approval, and equality in procedures between men and women.
- Woman can open business registrations, request registration of trademarks, reserve business names, practice freelancing, and register business agencies. All activities men can practice are permitted for women to practice, too.
- The laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia guarantee to all citizens the right of free education without any discrimination, and in its belief in the importance of the role of education in achieving sustainable development and the realization of human rights.
- The Personal Status Law, which aims to regulate some of the most persisting matters relating to marriage, alimony, divorce, and custody of children, guaranteeing a host on rights for women in Saudi.
- The Abuse Protection Law, which stipulates protection from harm of all kinds, providing the necessary assistance and treatment, as well as shelter, social and psychological care for its victims, and taking the necessary legal measures to hold the perpetrator accountable.
- Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) created to improve foreign worker mobility in Saudi Arabia. These are just a few really positive developments.