JEDDAH: The Saudi Football Federation (SFF) announced this week that it had approved the first batch of Saudi female referees as part of its efforts to develop women’s participation in the game in the Kingdom.
The SFF Referees Committee, in cooperation with the Women’s Football Development Department, approved 63 female referees to work under the federation’s umbrella. The referees attended two training programs in 2020, in Dammam in September, and in Riyadh in October, where they met with female referees from Jordan and Lebanon, who shared their experiences with the young trainees.
“It was a very enriching and encouraging experience, and gave us huge motivation and confidence in our abilities,” Lulwah Al-Dosari, one of the approved referees, told Arab News. “It is totally different when you meet someone who has already achieved something big. They told us how they had once been like us.
“I’ve been a big fan of football since a very young age, but we never had such a chance to develop and improve our abilities,” she added.
Saudi Arabia’s Women’s Football League (WFL) launched in November and saw 24 teams from Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam competing for the trophy and a $133,000 cash prize. Al-Dosari refereed one of the games, between Al-Shula and United Eagles in Dammam — having completed a FIFA training course in Dubai.
Sham Al-Ghamdi, the first Saudi woman to referee an official match, having completed the same FIFA course as Al-Dosari, said SFF accreditation was something she has been “seeking for years.”
“I traveled a lot and enrolled in many courses and tried to understand all details about football despite the lack of opportunities in the Kingdom until recently,” she told Arab News. Saudi women have only been able to attend football matches since 2018.
“Meeting with international referees was a unique experience and its benefits were beyond my expectations. It was an honor for me to be part of this program,” she continued. “This is the beginning of a long journey.”
Retired referee Abdulsalam Muhanna is the founder and chairman of Al-Marred Academy, which ran the Dammam training program.
“I noticed that there were no female referees or programs that supported them,” he told Arab News.
He approached the SFF to propose a training course. “The federation supported the project and made it available for participants from across the Kingdom,” he added.
Muhanna said that his academy has witnessed “great demand and interest from women in various sports,” but that facilities are lacking throughout the Kingdom. He hopes sports clubs will invest in creating facilities to help out the next generation of female athletes, coaches and referees.
Al-Ghamdi anticipates a bright future for women’s sports in the Kingdom.
“The passion is there, the skill is there and the support is also there,” she said. “I have hope that we will have a very impressive future as referees and players, and we can prove ourselves on the regional and international stage.”