The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), one of five bidders to host the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in 2027, has outlined how a successful staging could accelerate the development of the women’s game in the Kingdom and wider Asian region.
Based on the Saudi 2027 vision to offer a "New Experience, New Exchange and New Expansion" for Asian football, the SAFF has revealed its ambition to use the momentum created from the men's Asian Cup bid to initiate a comprehensive women’s football development programme beginning as early as 2021.
This would tie in with the recent launch of Saudi Arabia's first-ever women’s football league last year.
"With the individual elements of the programme currently being detailed, and due to be launched in full should Saudi Arabia be successful in its bid to host, the ambition of SAFF is to roll out the various activities not only across the Kingdom, but also to open up for women’s football development opportunities to the Gulf region and ultimately across Asia," a SAFF release said.
"A key component of the new women’s football development programme, an area highlighted in the Saudi 2027 bid book, will be a focus on encouraging girls to start playing football and to gradually increase the level of youth teams over the coming five years in order for Saudi Arabia as well as neighbouring counties to be competitive on international level."
A core element in this long-term ambition will be the newly-opened Mahd Sports Academy, launched last September by the Saudi Minister of Sport and National Olympic Committee President, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud, with the support of FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
SAFF secretary general Ibrahim Alkassim said: "Already now we feel the passion across the Kingdom for our vision to host the AFC Asian Cup in 2027.
"Should our dream become true later this year, we can only try to imagine the excitement and energy this will create.
"We must, therefore, use this momentum to make a very timely move forward for women’s football.
"Our research shows that of the more than five million passionate football fans here in Saudi Arabia, 33 per cent are female and their share is growing.
"They deserve our full attention, and today’s announcement of our new ambition for women’s football will hopefully send an encouraging message to all."
SAFF Board member and Ministry of Sports planning and development deputy, Adwa Alarifi, added: "As we in Saudi Arabia undertake our own transformation through our national Vision 2030, we want to use our long-standing passion for football to make sure that women and girls across our country can get involved and enjoy the game.
"We are just at the beginning of this development, but we have an ambitious agenda and the hosting of an AFC Asian Cup in 2027 would provide a fantastic opportunity to accelerate our plans for the future.
"Our message to the new generation of female players is clear: go girls!"
The SAFF’s rival bidders are the All India Football Federation, the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Uzbekistan Football Association and the Qatar Football Association.
Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and India have never hosted the Asian Cup before.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been high, and the two countries last year competed to stage the 2030 Asian Games - which were eventually awarded to Doha, with Riyadh getting the 2034 version.
The Sport and Rights Alliance has called on the AFC to include non-negotiable and binding standards on core labour, anti-corruption and human rights in the bidding procedure and hosting agreement for the event, with all five of the bidding nations coming under fire for abuses of human rights.
The next edition of the tournament, in 2023, is due to take place in China.