Women in Sports in Saudi Arabia


Women in Saudi Arabia experience widespread discrimination in Saudi politics, economy, and society. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Saudi Women are targeted by the Saudi Government who repress women’s rights activists and movements.

Women in the country are subjected to many restrictions in their daily lives. Up until 2018, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world in which women were forbidden from driving motor vehicles. The “Women to Drive” movement permitted Saudi Women to finally obtain this right which was already entitled to men. But this case shows how hard Saudi Women have to fight every day to live their lives and obtain the same privileges as men.

Sports is therefore one of many fields where gender discrimination strikes. Saudi Arabia discriminates against women and girls by denying them the same opportunities to exercise and play sports as men and boys. As recently as 2018, women and girls were still barred from taking part in sports in schools or even watching sports in stadiums. However, Saudi Arabia found a good parade to prove their will to include and respect women’s sports practice as FIFA decided to award Saudi Arabia’s state tourism authority sponsorship of the 2023 Women’s World Cup which showed shocking disregard for suffering and repression of Saudi’s courageous women’s rights defenders.

The Women’s World Cup is every four years flagship event in women’s soccer and with more than a billion viewers, the most-watched global women’s sports event. Top female athletes worldwide train their entire professional careers to play, and for many, it is the apex of their careers. As a sponsoring company, the Saudi State tourism campaign will be shown throughout women’s games, on the jumbotron, in the stadium, and blanketing game time television with advertisements.

Saudi Arabia, of course, is a global outlier in Human Rights, and especially women’s rights and women’s sports in the country have been a controversial topic for many years due to the suppression of female participation in sports by conservative Islamic religious authorities. There is evolution of course but they are taking a lot of time. Saudi Arabia’s first dedicated sports center for girls was opened in 2013 in Khobar, offering training programs that include physical fitness, karate, yoga, and weight loss as special activities for children. It was also announced that year that Saudi Arabian Girls were officially allowed to take part in sports in private schools, which they had not officially been allowed to do previously, though they had done so unofficially. In 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education allowed physical education in public schools. This step was taken in line with Saudi Vision 2030 to boost healthy practices among different spectrums in Saudi Arabia.