A women’s wrestling match is due to take place in Saudi Arabia for the first time, but it is still not clear whether the contenders may have to “dress modestly” for the historic event.
The contest is due to be held on Thursday night in Riyadh and features WWE wrestlers Natalya and Lacey Evans.
WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon told Newsweek: “Hopefully, this event, this match, this opportunity will have a ripple effect all around the world to show everyone that women belong in the same place that men do.
“They deserve to have the same opportunities as men. They deserve to be in this place. It’s an earned opportunity. It’s not something that’s being given. Equality should exist for everyone.”
But the match has drawn criticism due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and its oppressive laws.
Same-sex activity is illegal, public spaces are mostly separated by gender and women’s rights are still restricted.
Women could not attend sporting events until as recently as 2017.
While Saudi Arabia is relaxing its strict rules on entertainment, it is not clear yet whether the fighters will have to cover up, as foreign tourists do.
Many women normally wear a long black robe in public called an abaya that covers all but the hands and face.
Female tourists are required to wear loose trousers or skirts, long-sleeved shirts and an abaya on top.
In 2018 it became legal for women in Saudi Arabia to drive cars, and last August changes were made to the guardianship system – allowing women to apply for passports and travel independently without permission.
Nonetheless, women still continue to have many restrictions on their lives and several women’s rights activists have been arrested and put on trial.
Some activists have even alleged they were tortured in prison.
The historic match is part of the WWE Crown Jewel event being held at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium.
Lacey Evans tweeted on Wednesday: “When I signed up for WWE my goal was to really impact the world and the people that I can, and we’re doing it one day at a time.”
Natalya wrote: “The world will be watching. I am so incredibly proud to represent our women’s division tomorrow night at #WWECrownJewel. It’s time to bring your best, Lacey.”
WWE’s first Saudi wrestler Mansoor told WWE.com: “I cannot even begin to describe how much that means to me, how much that means to my little sisters, who love WWE, how much it means to my nieces, who love WWE and who fantasise and dream about being wrestlers.
“When I first started... I had a lot of people asking me, ‘hey, do you think women are ever going to get to compete here?’
“I was, like, ‘absolutely’, because when I grew up here the idea of men and women even sitting in the same arena to watch a show was unheard of.
“We have women driving now. Just the changes that have been in this country, every single time I come back, are astronomical. I’m so incredibly proud that I am going to be there.”
The Independent has contacted WWE for comment.
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