Saudi Arabia hosted its first marathon for women at the weekend, local media said, as the conservative kingdom seeks to boost female sports in a far-reaching modernisation drive.
Hundreds of women runners, many of them dressed in traditional Islamic attire, raced in eastern Al-Ahsa region on Saturday.
“The aim of the marathon is to promote running and introduce the concept of sports for all, for a healthier way of life,” Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News quoted the marathon’s supervisor, Malek al-Mousa, as saying.
The event came after Riyadh hosted its first international half-marathon in late February, which prompted complaints from some Saudis on social media about the notable absence of women.
Sports authorities are set to organise another marathon for women in the holy city of Mecca on April 6, pro-government Okaz newspaper reported.
Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of social reforms that includes allowing women to drive from June.
The kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority last month said it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector over the coming decade.
But some Saudis have complained on social media of what they called wasteful spending as the kingdom reels from slumping oil revenues, high inflation and unemployment.