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Arab women's joy at freedom in stadiums

November 30, 2022

The World Cup is seeing higher numbers of female fans inside stadiums than ever before. Arab women from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Morocco explain the joy of seeing their teams compete at the World Cup.

Tunisian Women cheer on their team
Tunisia are playing in their fifth World CupImage: Heuler Andrey/Action Plus/IMAGO

In one of the most fraught World Cups, with human rights and LGBTQ abuses in Qatar at the forefront of issues being highlighted within the country, questions over how many women from the Arab nation would be present in the stadiums was a topic many queried.

In the first World Cup in the Middle East four states from the Arab nations — Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia and host Qatar — have featured at this year's tournament. 

It matched the highest number of nations from the region to compete at the competition as at Russia 2018, but for female fans there has been a distinct difference

"The Arab female fans attendance in Qatar has been bigger than we expected," a Qatari woman told DW reporter Dana Sumlaji. "You could see that they were equal in the stadium.  

"We do come from a conservative country and some families don't accept women going to stadiums, while other families don't have a problem. 

"But we do not get the chance of hosting the World Cup often, so you see even these conservative families accepting their girls going to the stadiums. We are coming in big numbers like one family to support all Arab teams."

Saudi fans take over Doha

Saudi Arabia, in particular, has brought a sea of changes for women in the country, with a series of reforms over the past few years intended to modernize the country, including lifting a ban on allowing women into football stadiums in January 2019.

While the changes have been viewed as an attempt by the country to have the world overlook  the atrocities still committed in the state, where people are still executed and the government is routinely accused of human rights atrocities, they have equally benefitted passionate female football fans. 

Following Saudi Arabia's shock 2-1 victory over Argentina in their opening group match, an overwhelming number of people from the country made the short trip over to Doha for second game against Poland, with approximately 42,000 of the 44,259-strong crowd coming from the Arab state.

"The stadium we played in against Poland didn't fit all of us," a Saudi female fan explained. "Wait until the match in Lusail against Mexico, we will fill the stadium.

"Saudi women have always supported the men's team whether in front of the TV or in the stadium. And as there are no restrictions for women in stadiums now, we have the same rights as men there," she added.

"We came in big numbers to Qatar. I hope the future is even brighter, especially for the women's national team, I hope to see them also in the Women's World Cup soon."

Female Saudi Arabia fans taking pictures with their phones
Recent changes have seen women allowed to drive and enter football stadiums in Saudi ArabiaImage: Ulmer/Teamfoto/IMAGO

Moroccan football culture ingrained in women

In fact, early this year Morocco became the first-ever Arab women's team to earn their place at a World Cup, after reaching this year's Women's Africa Cup of Nations final, even though they ultimately lost the match 2-1 to South Africa.

But Moroccans believe there is a distinct difference in the attitude of seeing women at matches and in the culture of following football within North African Arab nations, compared with those in Arabian Peninsula.

"The culture in Morocco means supporting the national team is a national duty," Moroccan fan Kawtar Ajbali explained. "We are born with the football culture and there is equality between men and women in this matter."

And, for DW reporter Sumlaji, who was born in Syria and was forced to contend with sexist attitudes as one of few female TV reporters on men's football within her country of birth, seeing so many women from her nation at the World Cup has been a wholesome feeling.

"What I have seen at this World Cup, with all these women celebrating football no matter of their beliefs or tradition and culture differences, that was what I always dreamt of seeing in the Arab world," she said.

"I wish it could have always been like this, that seeing women in stadiums as a very normal thing."