In a surprise move on Sunday, sports authorities in Saudi Arabia announced that women will be able to attend sporting events in stadiums starting in 2018.
The country’s General Sports Authority announced the move on Twitter, writing that three stadiums in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman are being prepped “to accommodate families” next year.
The authority added that restaurants, cafes and monitor screens would be set up inside the stadiums.
“Sports stadiums in Saudi Arabia to open their doors to welcome women in 2018,” wrote Princess Reema Bandar bint Al-Saud, the Vice President for Women’s Affairs of the General Sports Authority, on Twitter.
Frequently criticized for its strict restrictions on women, Saudi Arabia has long barred women from entering sports arenas due to strict rules on segregating the sexes in public.
Last month, authorities allowed women to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh for the first time to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s national day.
Sunday’s landmark announcement is in line with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s recent reform drive, with the ultra-conservative kingdom showing signs of relaxing some of its restrictions on women.
His “Vision 2030” plan for social and economic reformsseeks primarily to wean Saudi Arabia off of its dependence on oil exports, but also aims to boost female employment.
Last week, the prince promised the kingdom will return to “what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is tolerant of all religions and to the world.”
The decision to allow women into sports arenas follows a July reform by the education ministry letting girls take part in sports at state schools.
It also comes on the heels of a historic royal decree last month that said women in Saudi Arabia would be allowed to drive.
Still, under Saudi Arabia’s current guardianship system, a male family member — typically the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for women to be able to travel, study or do other activities.