Saudi Arabia’s conservative kingdom sent its first female team to an International Tennis Federation (ITF) event, marking a new milestone for women’s sport in the country.
The Asia/Oceania Billie Jean King Cup Juniors pre-qualifying event, which is being held this week in Colombo, Sri Lanka, marks the first time Saudi Arabia has been represented by a female team at an ITF event.
“This is an amazing experience, and it is so empowering,” Saudi Arabia captain Areej Farah told ITF.
“Taking part in this event is a big step for women’s tennis in Saudi and we are all very proud to represent our country and do our best.
“Watching doors open for our young Saudi female athletes is just beyond exciting. I feel like I’m living through them, and I honestly thank this team for trusting me and allowing me this opportunity to guide them.”
Although recent reforms have given women in Saudi Arabia more freedoms, many of their rights remain restricted.
Saudi Arabia’s women’s football team only played their first match in February 2022, while Saudi women were banned from attending fixtures in stadiums until 2017.
“It’s groundbreaking because Saudi Arabia has a goal of expanding the number of women in sports, and being a part of that just makes us feel so lucky,” Dania Alzuhair, representing Saudi Arabia at the 16-and-under team event, added.
“Billie Jean King Cup is a huge international event, and we are so proud to take part in it.”
The ITF has been working with the Saudi Arabian Tennis Federation in the development of junior initiatives over the last few years, it said.
“(The development programmes include) the Junior Tennis Initiative and educational programmes for coaches and parents,” the ITF’s Development Officer for West and Central Asia, Amir Borghei, said.
“The Saudi Arabian Tennis Federation’s approach of developing junior tennis has helped them form a girls’ team, which is participating at an ITF team event for the first time. It is wonderful to see.”