Chaperoned by men, thousands of women thronged a Saudi stadium Wednesday for the Italian Supercup final between Juventus and AC Milan, in a match Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini described as “disgusting.”
The female football fans entered the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in western Jeddah city through specially designated turnstiles for “families”, with solo women barred from attending.
However other Italian politicians such as Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni joined Salvini and criticised the choice of location for the match.
She said, “Women can only go in the family areas, not alone, because Islam does not allow it, so an Italian woman who wanted to buy a ticket to watch the game alone or with a group of friends can not do it.”
“That is disgusting. Have we sold centuries of European civilisation and battles for the rights of women for money to the Saudis?” Meloni added.
Others called for the game to be moved outright due to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi including human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
But with reports there were up to 15,000 women among the 62,000 crowd, accompanied by men or male children, Italian football league president Gaetano Micciche believes it was a success.
He said the presence of women in the stadium would go down in history as the first international competition that Saudi women were allowed to watch in a stadium.
The decision allowing women to attend football matches followed the announcement last year that the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia is to be lifted.
The loosening of restrictions falls in line with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s modernization movement known as the “Vision 2030” economic program, which Saudi leadership officially approved in April, 2017. As well as promoting economic growth, the program also intends to liberalize many of the country’s Islamic conditions.
AFP contributed to this report
Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: Follow @SunSimonKent or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org