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Saudi Arabia / Women's football: "A first Women's League with 16 teams and 430 players" (L. Bahaian)

News Tank Football - Paris - Interview #253141 - Published on 30/05/22 at 12:30
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©  D.R.
Lamia Bahaian, board member and head of women's football at SAFF - ©  D.R.

"One of the most exciting things that happened in November 2021 is that we had 16 teams playing under the Federation. It was a very good number for the start of the first women’s league in the SAFF Saudi Arabian Football Federation ’s history. 430 players played in total," said Lamia Bahaian Board Member & Head of Women’s Football Department @ Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF)
, board member and head of women’s football at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), to News Tank on 01/04/2022.

Saudi Arabia launched its first ever women's football championship on 25/11/2021. The competition consisted of two stages, starting with three regional leagues in Riyadh, Jeddah and Ammam. Eight teams then qualified for the national stage (in a playoff format) from 01 to 08/01/2022.

"There is one thing that we would change: instead of having a two-month competition, it should be four to six month league. The players need to be able to practice more. One of the best things was that the girls were really excited and really committed to play. They were playing two games per week, very competitive games. We really want to take advantage of this momentum by adding more teams and creating a second division. It could be 16 teams at the top level, and 12 teams in the second tier," said Lamia Bahaian.

The development of women's football in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider movement initiated by the government in order to develop sports for girls and women. One of the main challenges is the provision of facilities to host the athletes.

"Infrastructure is an issue for both men’s and women’s football. The governement and the Federation are already very aware of this. Just now, we’ve started a project for identifying pitches in the cities. For example, in Riyad, we have Prince Nourah University. We want to renovate approximately four football pitches. After the renovation, we’ll go to another city, etc. We are renovating these pitches just for women’s football," added Lamia Bahaian, who answered questions from News Tank.


"Men’s clubs started noticing how women are playing football and became interested in having a women’s team" (L. Bahaian, SAFF)

How was the first Saudi Arabian Women's Championship which started in November 2021?

One of the most exciting things that happened in November 2021 is that we had 16 teams playing under the Federation. It was a very good number for the start of the first women’s league in the SAFF’s history.

430 players played in total. It went on for approximately two months. It was first a regional league in Riyad, Djeddah and Ammam, with a home and away format. The eight best teams from the three leagues (three teams from Riyad, three from Djeddah and two from Ammam) then participated in a national league in Djeddah. It was a play-off format, which lasted aproximately ten days. 

2021-22 Saudi Women's Championship play-off table - ©  SAFF

Are Saudis interested in this new competition?

Everyone took our pictures to make headlines, to congratulate and encourage us, etc. »

When we started the league, we announced the teams, the format, but we didn’t have much content - photos or videos - to provide to the community. But once we started posting during the first week of the league, a lot of fans followed the various accounts. Everyone took our pictures to make headlines, to congratulate and encourage us, etc. Even FIFA Fédération Internationale de Football Association posted something. 

What conclusions can you draw from this first edition? Are there any developments already planned?

There is one thing that we would change: instead of having a two month competition, it should be four to six month league. The players need to be able to practice more. 

One of the best things was that the girls were really excited and really committed to play. They were playing two games per week, very competitive games.

We really want to take advantage of this momentum by adding more teams and creating a second division. It could be 16 teams at the top level, and 12 teams in the second tier.

Women's national football championship - ©  SAFF

Are the current teams linked to professional men's clubs? 

The league went viral on social media »

Not yet. The 16 teams started playing back in 2008 approximately. They were community clubs, but they’ve practiced football for 14 years. They know how to play. When we opened the registration department within the Federation, they already had players and technical staff. They came as women’s clubs. 

This is one of the advantages that we had after we finished the league. It went viral on social media in Saudi Arabia with all the pictures and videos. Then, the men’s clubs started noticing how women are playing football. Now the league is finished, they became interested in having women’s team within their club. Maybe in the next few seasons we’ll see Al Nassr or Al Hilal playing in our league.

• Alongside the launch of its first women's championship, Saudi Arabia has created its first ever women's national team in 2021.

• The team played its first two official matches and won (2-0) against the Seychelles and the Maldives, on 20 and 24/02/2022 respectively, during a mini-tournament featuring the three countries.

• "Our goal is to give the players the experience they need to play international matches and to make our official debut in the FIFA rankings," said Monika Staab, the German coach of the Saudi national team.

• FIFA regulations require any country wishing to be included in the world ranking to play at least five official matches. The Saudi Arabian team must therefore play three more games in order to be ranked.

The Saudi women's national team after their 2-0 win against the Maldives on 24/02/2022 - ©  SAFF

Is it a goal for the Federation to see more and more girls playing football in Saudi Arabia?

We will be launching school leagues in August 2022 »

 Of course. We have that objective and it’s very important for us to start from early age, to build the foundations for the mass participation of women and then go on to the leagues, development, and so on. We’re talking about football in schools, which is also decisive. That’s why we’ll be launching the school leagues in August 2022.

Community football has to be developped under the Federation »

There is also community football, which has to be under the Federation. We have to build a permanent women’s football here in Saudi Arabia. We are only beginning and we are testing it and watching. We’ll see how many girls in the Kingdom play football in two years.

In every project that we have, we need to understand the current situation. For example, football in Djeddah, Riyad or Dammam is different than in Al-Ula or Tabuk. The first three are bigger regions and girls have been playing football since 2006. If you go to Tabuk, there is no community league. You have to start and develop it. It’s different. We are a big country, with 13 regions. 

Young Saudi women training with Monika Staab (GER) - ©  SAFF

Do you already have enough infrastructure to host women's football?

We also deliver agreements to schools and universities »

Infrastructure is an issue for both men’s and women’s football. The governement and the Federation are already very aware of this. Just now, we’ve started a project for identifying pitches in the cities. For example, in Riyad, we have Prince Nourah University. We want to renovate approximately four football pitches. After the renovation, we’ll go to another city, etc. We are renovating these pitches just for women’s football. That will solve the problem.

We also deliver agreements to schools and universities which already have football stadiums or pitches in order to use them for women’s football at certain times. 

How much money does the government invest in women's football?

The league winner got 300,000 riyals ($140,000) »

It’s a huge sum. It’s difficult to give a precise figure. One indication: we only started the league in November, the very first one in the country, and the winner got 300,000 riyals, which means $140,000. For the first season alone, it’s a large amount of money. We can imagine that this amount will grow in the next few years. 

Lamia Bahaian


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# 46186, created on 25/05/22 at 10:30 - Updated on 25/05/22 at 16:03


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©  D.R.
Lamia Bahaian, board member and head of women's football at SAFF - ©  D.R.