A debut goal for Arabian women
For the first time women could choose freely where to sit in a football stadium, without being segregated from men. And their smiles told a story.
The referee has just blown his whistle for half-time in the Valencia vs Real Madrid semi-final. She climbs the stairs of the King Abdullah stadium holding her son's hand. I look at her. She is wearing a long navy green robe, her hair uncovered around a beautiful face. She looks at me. I am situated in the press gallery, a row in which four female and two male journalists have sat. Then she smiles at me. A full, deep smile. It holds for just two seconds, but it screams out emphatically. It is the smile for an historic day. For the first time in Jeddah she could watch football mixed in with men, no segregation within the stadium directed by the poster that continues to do so in many other places across the city: 'FAMILY ONLY'.
Many more can be seen, scattered throughout a stadium that has three full sections. Two here, another there, a further group several rows above. Yes, they are still the minority, but they have just conquered something that had been prohibited. The freedom to choose where to sit. This is another aftershock of the earthquake that has rumbled the country open in the last three years, with Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. Only a few are dressed in the niqab, the black shawl that allows for nothing but the eyes to be seen, almost all there with their face exposed, something that even just a year ago, was considered strange, often forbidden. Like driving; like a women's league. Tremors that we Westerners see as minor, but you cannot jump directly from the Middle Ages to the 21st century in just a year. And for them, these recent days of the Spanish Super Cup can be reflected on like the time Neil Armstrong descended the stairs onto the moon and said, "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
"I hope it endures," someone whispers to me. For it to continue after the Super Cup has gone, this is the real battle. For us to head home but for that woman to continue to take her seat wherever she wants in the King Abdullah along with her son.
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