By John Ensor •
Published: 13 Jan 2024 • 12:48
Eastern Flames FC.
THE women’s football scene in Saudi Arabia now infused with Spanish expertise, is a striking example of how the sporting culture of one nation can evolve.
Saudi Arabia has made significant strides since September 2017, when women were allowed to drive and cinemas reopened after 35 years.
Progress continued with the launch of the first women’s league in 2021, and the national team playing its inaugural international match in 2022. This evolution represents a remarkable shift in a nation that is currently the Super Cup’s host.
The transformation of Saudi women’s football has been significantly influenced by Spanish professionals. Lluis Cortes, former coach of FC Barcelona and the Ukraine national team, took charge of the Saudi women’s team in December.
The first division of Saudi’s local league further underscores this influence, with Ana Junyent leading Al-Riyadh as the sole female coach, and David Cabildo at the helm of the Eastern Flames, the pioneering Saudi women’s soccer team.
Based in Dammam, the Eastern Flames, also known as Shulat Alsharqia FC, signify the starting point of women’s football in the region.
‘The football stadium is very initial. There is no prior training. They are starting from the bottom, with very basic things,’ said David Cabildo, outlining the nascent stage of development.
Despite the primary nature of their setup, the passion and dedication of the players is noteworthy. ‘Patience is needed. But in women’s football, the players are already very eager to learn… They put a lot of passion,’ Cabildo observes, highlighting the players’ enthusiasm and rapid progress.
Cabildo’s experience in Saudi Arabia reveals cultural nuances, especially in player-coach interactions and attire. However, these differences don’t hinder the spirit and ambition within the team.
The broadcasting of all matches on television and the involvement of Saudi Telecom Company, a major stakeholder in Spain’s Telefonica since September 2023, underscores the growing popularity and support for women’s football in Saudi Arabia.
The Eastern Flames, though currently underdogs in the league, are crucial to the strategic development of Saudi women’s football.
This strategy is bolstered by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s collaboration with German Monika Staab, renowned for her role in developing Qatar’s women’s team.
Looking ahead, Saudi Arabia plans to introduce a third category in women’s football, further expanding the sport’s reach and impact.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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