Deontay Wilder eyes knockout return against old sparring partner

New Saudi Women’s Premier League kicks-off featuring five biggest local clubs and overseas players

RIYADH: Saudi sporting history was made on Thursday night as the SAFF Women’s Premier League marked its official launch with Al-Nassr defeating Sama at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium’s reserve pitch in Riyadh.

This marks the latest step taken by women’s football over the past few years in the Kingdom.

Last year’s inaugural Regional Women’s Football League was a big success, crowning three champions across Riyadh (Al-Yamamah), Jeddah (Jeddah Eagles) and Dammam (Eastern Flames), and welcoming more than 400 players from 16 teams. Riyadh side Al-Mamlaka then went on to claim the National Championship following an eight-team knockout battle in Jeddah.

Since then, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation has restructured the competition to launch the Premier League and First Division League.

Action from Al-Nassr’s win over Sama in the first ever Saudi Women’s Premier League fixture. (SAFF)

The new structure has attracted traditional men’s Saudi Pro League clubs such as Asian Champions League champions Al-Hilal, in addition to Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli, Al-Ittihad and Al-Shabab, to join the new top-tier league.

The newly launched league has not only captured attention locally but has also welcomed an influx of talented players from across the region and rest of the world.

With a historic prize pool of almost $380,500 (SR1.43 million), the Premier League will see eight teams compete on a home-and-away basis over the next 14 weeks, for a total of 56 matches. Meanwhile, the First Division League, launching on Nov. 11, will play host to 17 teams from across the Kingdom who will battle over a prize pool of almost $175,580 (SR 660,000), with the champion promoted to the Premier League.

The new leagues come on the back of major progress across all areas of women’s football in Saudi Arabia, from youth development to coaching to refereeing.

Last month, the national team took part in its first-ever matches on home soil against Bhutan, with the first fixture seeing the hosts bounce back from a 3-1 deficit at half-time to claim a 3-3 draw thanks to Bandari Al-Mubarak and Nora Ibrahim’s strikes in the closing 15 minutes.

Action from Al-Nassr’s win over Sama in the first ever Saudi Women’s Premier League fixture. (SAFF)

The second match was also a six-goal thriller with the visitors getting the upper hand in a 4-2 victory. Led by German head coach Monika Staab, the Saudi team made its international debut earlier this year with two victories against the Seychelles and Maldives.

Transformative grass-roots investment has also seen the launch of three regional training centers welcoming hundreds of 6 to 17-year-old girls.

In addition, the newly launched 2022 Girls’ Schools League has welcomed almost 50,000 registrants representing 4,768 teams in 1,906 schools across all corners of the Kingdom. SAFF delivered a total of 40 D license coaching courses, certifying 857 teachers in the process. It also upskilled 544 teachers to officiate the matches by undergoing 15 extensive courses.

Saudi Arabia’s investment in the women’s game also stretches to staging regional tournaments. It recently staged the West Asian Football Federation 3rd Women’s Futsal Championship in Jeddah, with the hosts finishing with a silver medal. SAFF also announced an intention to host the 2026 Women’s AFC Asian Cup, with growing the game across the continent central to the bid.

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