Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women at Sweden match

Saudi Arabia has backed down on barring women from attending an international football match with Sweden in Riyadh this week after its decision caused uproar, the Swedish Football Association said on Tuesday.

“Wednesday’s international game between Saudi Arabia and Sweden will be open for all spectators who want to see the match,” the football association said in a statement.

There were calls from across Sweden for the country’s team to boycott the game after it became clear on Monday that the match had been moved to a smaller stadium than first expected, prompting Saudi authorities to block women from attending.

Women, who face strict restraints in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, are required to cover from head to toe when in public and to stay separate from men.

In Sweden, perhaps the world’s most feminist country, the news that both Swedish and Saudi women would be blocked from attending the game did not go down well.

When questioned about the match in parliament on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said “it is important that Sweden very clearly speaks out when women are discriminated against. This is a good occasion.”

The foreign ministry was unable to say whether Freivalds had made her concerns known directly to the Saudis, but according to the football association, Christer Nilsson of the Swedish embassy in Riyadh had contacted authorities there.

“The football stadium where the international game will be played is open for everyone who wants to see the match, and that is also true for Saudi women,” he was told on Tuesday.

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