Saudi Arabia’s first female international referee was appointed by FIFA on Thursday, less than a year after the conservative kingdom’s national women’s team made their debut.
Anoud Al-Asmari’s international badge is the latest in a series of steps in football by the oil-rich Saudis, who have lured 37-year-old great Cristiano Ronaldo to the Saudi Pro League and are mulling a World Cup co-hosting bid.
“I am happy to be the first Saudi female referee to receive the international badge in the history of Saudi sports,” Asmari, one of eight Saudis on the international panel announced by the world body, told AFP.
Asked how she would feel about officiating a men’s game, Asmari, 34, said she wouldn’t give it any thought until it was approved by the Saudi FA.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s renowned conservatism, opportunities have started to open up in women’s sport including a women’s football league that started in November 2021.
The first Saudi women’s national team, coached by German veteran Monica Stapp, beat the Seychelles 2-0 in their maiden official match last February.
Saudi Arabia, whose neighbour Qatar hosted the World Cup in November and December, has applied to hold the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and is the sole bidder for the men’s version in 2027.
It is also considering a joint bid for the 2030 World Cup alongside Egypt and Greece.