RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Football Federation (SAFF) appointed women to the board for the first time in the kingdom’s history on Wednesday, and also named a new president.
The two women are Adwa al-Arifi and Reham Al-Onaizan and the new president is Qusay bin Abdulaziz al-Fawaz.
Saudi authorities said al-Fawaz was the sole candidate who met all conditions for a post left empty after Adel Ezzat resigned on August 19 to run for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation.
Al-Arifi was, Saudi media has reported, appointed in February as “the first woman committee member” in the history of SAFF. She was part of a seven-member corporate social responsibility committee and holds a degree in business administration.
Al-Onaizan’s Linkedin page says she was “corporate performance and initiative management Senior Manager at the (Saudi) General Entertainment Authority’.
Qusay al-Fawaz is close to the head of Saudi Arabia’s general authority for sports head Turki Al-Sheikh — who in turn is close to the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been making social and economic reforms.
These included allowing women to enter a football stadium to watch a match for the first time in January, an easing of rules separating the sexes.
However, his reforms have been paralleled by a crackdown on all dissent, with 12 women’s rights campaigners arrested over the summer –- eight of them women.
Al-Fawaz has served as president of the Saudi Chess Federation and was a member of the team that oversaw Saudi Arabia’s participation in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Saudi Arabia has long been a marginal player in football’s ruling classes, unlike its Gulf rival Qatar — set to host the 2022 World Cup — with which it is embroiled in a year-long diplomatic spat.
But the oil-rich kingdom is in the middle of a major push for global influence in football governance.