Saudi women have been breaking barriers in sports this year; despite facing social stigmas, there's no stopping them. Earlier this week, it was announced that a new sports tournament, a horse race that's set to be the "world's richest," is opening up to women in the kingdom.
In a statement to BBC Sport, the Chairman of Saudi Arabia's Jockey Club, Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, said women are going to be allowed to join the inaugural Saudi Cup race next year. "Men and women will be treated equally" the royal said, adding that women are "most welcome" to participate in the race.
The event is scheduled to take place in Riyadh on Feb. 29, 2020.
According to Al Arabiya, horse racing is a popular sport in the kingdom, where a Jokey Club was formed in 1965. However, women were never involved in its local history as they were previously banned from taking part in most public sports events.
The royal told the BBC that women's inclusion in the 2020 race comes as part of efforts to "transform" the kingdom and prepare it for a "more open" era.
"We are going through a transformation in the kingdom. We are learning, but we are opening up and there is a political will to go there," he said.
Preparations for the event are well underway and are being led by Al Faisal. The prince has established a team of racing experts to help bring the sports cup to life. The team includes Tom Ryan, hired as the project's strategic director credited "with helping revitalize Naas racecourse in Ireland," Phil Smith, the ex-Grand National handicapper with experience in setting weights horses can carry during races, also hired as strategic director, and well-connected British racing figure Harry Herbert as global ambassador.
The world's richest race at a glance
The Saudi Cup consists of a main race set to take place on the King Abdulaziz racetrack in Riyadh, with a prize worth $20 million. The race will be run on a 1,800-meter dirt circuit, with a maximum of 14 runners.
The winner of the Cup's feature race will be rewarded with a whopping $10 million. According to the BBC, "the pot for the main nine-furlong race is three times that of Europe's richest contest, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France." Other winners will also earn monetary rewards including the 10th-placed finisher who will get around $200,000.
Five additional races included in the event carry additional prize money totaling $6.8 million. Two of these extra races will take place on the same feature track, with three others on a new turf course. One of the additional races on grass is a "'staying handicap' over just under two miles and could attract the kind of runners that compete in the Ebor Handicap at York and Australia's Melbourne Cup."
The grand event's organizers estimate it will be attended by around 12,000 people in its opening year. Ticket buyers will be guaranteed visas as per orders passed in the kingdom to issue entry documents to those visiting for concerts or sports events.
Saudi women have been making strides in sports in the past years
Despite the setbacks and the obstacles that have stood in their way, Saudi women have proved their achievements matter.
In recent months, they've been representing the kingdom at international championships all around the world. Last month, an all-women bowling team represented the country at the Women's World Championship in Bowling which took place in Las Vegas, U.S.
Earlier this year, Al Anoud Al Khalifi and Afnan Sabbagh became the first Saudi women to take part in the West Asia and GCC Weightlifting Championship and won a total of 12 medals at the event.
In March, the kingdom's female basketball team participated in the Special Olympics World Summer Games for the first time and scored a gold medal. That same month, Zahra Al-Qurashi made history after winning the kingdom's first gold medal in kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs in Amman, Jordan.