Spanish Super Cup: Blanca Riad | sports
The sun has not yet risen in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) at six in the morning, but from the loudspeakers of the mosques the adhan, the call to prayer. Some will attend and many more will pray from home as they will also do at noon, at 3:20 p.m., at 5:00 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m., as indicated by the Koran and the winter calendar. Religion is always present in the lively conversations in the city’s countless cafes, although this week football and the Spanish Super Cup have been one of the favorite gossips. As it happens in a Japanese restaurant on the outskirts of the city, in which the prices are breathtaking because there is plenty of money, as explained by the pompous shopping centers that are multiplying by Riyadh, the buildings that tickle the clouds or the infinity of Ministries .
“I am a Madridista until death, there is no better team,” says Turki, a banker who is barely over thirty. “The Barca! Don’t you remember 2-6 or 5-0? The sextet?”, complains his friend Mohammed. “Matches that are only worth three points. And everyone can have a good year. But we are the kings of Europe with 13 Champions League titles and three in a row”, Turki replies, as he turns around and lets go: “And so the discussions end here!”.
Riad is much whiter than Barça. Something that became clear in the classic that was held in the ostentatious King Fahad International Stadium (2-3). “Go Madrid!” and “Benzema!” They were the most repeated shouts in a grandstand that cheered endlessly and that converted the song dedicated to Al-Hilal, one of the local teams and champion of the last Asian Champions. “Clap, clap, clap [aplausos], Madrid!”. Turki explains: “Many of us fell in love with Los Galácticos —Beckham, Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos— and that stays in our hearts. With Guardiola and Messi, some joined Barça, but without Leo, people prefer United over Ronaldo”.
More than anything because Messi is not seen, because beIN Sports broadcasts LaLiga and the Premier, also its competition, not the French League. But no other sport is shown on TV except for camel and horse racing, the country’s other great sporting tradition, in which the sheikhs invest huge amounts of money, also the passion of Prince Mohamed bin Salman. There are also more that invest in football, even in buying players to loan them to clubs.
“Now that they don’t make him a starter, we could bring in Luis Suárez,” asks Hafid, the leader of some twenty young people who have come to the stadium to cheer on Atlético. He has paid about 40 euros, the average price of the tournament, although there were tickets from nine to 590 euros, which are in the VIP area, in the windows next to the presidential box. The colchoneros are almost alone, since only 17,000 fans attended the duel against Athletic for the 33,500 officials (which were more) of the classic. “We don’t miss an important Atlético match. We meet at someone’s house and sing. It is the best team and one day others will understand it. Inshallah”, completes Hafid, while touching the shield of the shirt. Genuine, of course.
It’s not like there’s a huge fake elastic market around town, either. “The best ones are in Al Owais, near the souk,” says Turki. But, again, money is not a widespread problem in the city. “Until recently, water, energy and other services were practically free, although it all depends on how oil exports go. And the Saudis live very well and have foreign people from other Islamic countries on their salaries”, explains Ernesto Giménez, who was the Spanish ambassador in Riyadh from 2016 to 2018. Although all that glitters in a totalitarian state is not gold, since there is the death penalty —unlike public executions…—, in addition to the fact that homosexuality is a crime with the maximum penalty, you cannot drink or have extramarital relations, the possession or distribution of pornography is punishable by imprisonment and the trafficking of drugs with beheading. And they give women, in many cases, a lower status.
“There are more and more rights and freedoms for women in Riyadh. That means that we are on the right track”, reviews Karima, false name because otherwise she refused to speak. Since 2015 they can vote, in 2018 the law that they could not drive was abolished and in restaurants they are no longer segregated from men. Not so wearing clothes that are not wide and long, bathing in a community pool and many other freedoms.
Evening falls in Riyadh and the shops close as they have done during the day during times of prayer, 15 minutes of pause to pray. It also starts to rain profusely —Athletic canceled their training— and the vast and innumerable roads and highways that flood the city receive the drops to shake off the sand and dust of the desert for once. Tomorrow football will return, the final of the Super Cup. Riyadh will be white again. Although for them the important thing is that it is played here. And, as they say to wish luck and happiness, Arabia Felix.
The country’s women’s league, underway but still anonymous
Restrictions on women are also seen in stadiums, as they can only sit in the family area at Saudi league matches. Something that the Spanish Football Federation refused to accept as seen in the Super Cup duels, although they abounded more in Atlético-Athletic. “They both like soccer. More to me, of course. But it was an interesting game”, says Farid, who was walking a few steps in front of his wife and daughter before entering through the entrance to the stadium. “I don’t know the players,” added Hafsa sheepishly.
Something usual if we talk about the national team – in February it will be released for the first time in history, against a team from the Maldives – and the women’s league, which a few months ago played the inaugural edition. “Well, I didn’t know!” Karima says sarcastically, because she knows they don’t show it on television. “I have never seen a women’s soccer match. I didn’t even know the league existed”, adds Lamia, who shares a tablecloth with her husband at the luxurious Vittori Palace hotel, where the press is staying; “But I would like to, why not?” And he concludes: “Well, it would be great if our girls got to play in a World Cup…”. Rabea Tawfiq, a Jeddah Eagles player, replied to this for FIFA: “God willing, we will progress as players and represent our country as women from other countries do. Then football will become as normal for girls as it is for boys.”
The creation of the women’s league was also promoted by the Spanish federation. “We did a bit of mentoring, direction, help, talks, training for coaches, physical trainers…”, they list in the Federation. Among them, the women’s coach Jorge Vilda, who spent hours teaching classes online.
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