Zest for women’s soccer grows in Middle East despite conservative opposition
KUWAIT CITY — Although women’s soccer has been banned for more than a decade in Arab states, and even during the recent Arab Spring, it continues to grow in the Middle East, with the Gulf state of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman among its most important markets.
Women’s soccer in the region has seen a steady rise on both the domestic and regional league fronts and in 2014, Qatar became the world’s top women’s soccer market, with more than 17,000 paying spectators for its league games.
The Gulf emirates also hosted the 2015 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, the first such international women’s championship for countries where the women’s national teams are either banned or considered to be underdeveloped. Kuwait won that title after defeating Russia 1-0 in the final.
“For me it shows that this sport is something that is available for both sexes,” said Emadeddin Dihlabi, a sports journalist in Kuwait. “Women and men can both play soccer together without any discrimination.”
There are also indications that women may be able to improve their performance, particularly at the highest levels. Last month, the UAE women’s national team won the 2015 Asian Cup in Qatar by beating Japan 2-1, and the national federation of the Bahraini women’s soccer league is preparing to appoint a new female coach.
“FIFA is already supporting the women’s development in the women’s football sector, and because of its great interest in supporting the women’s soccer sector, they are supporting both women and men,” FIFA’s director general, Jérôme Valcke, told state-run news agency WAM.
“It was always the case that it was a sport that was not available to the general public. Nowadays, the whole world can play both men and women’s football together. In the future, women will have to compete in international leagues, but I am very optimistic that in the future the first will have greater