Mail Sport's Charlotte Daly shares her experience in Saudi Arabia

I got stared at but it was more novelty value than anything sinister! Mail Sport’s Charlotte Daly shares her experience as a western women covering Tyson Fury’s fight with Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia

  • Mail Sport’s Charlotte Daly shares her experience of being in Saudi Arabia 
  • She covered Tyson Fury’s fight with Francis Ngannou in Riyadh on Saturday 
  • Listen to Mail Sport’s new boxing podcast THE HOOK – with exclusive interviews 

How did you feel in Saudi Arabia? It’s a question I have been asked more times than I can count. It appears people are more intrigued about in my opinion on Riyadh than my analysis of the fight that took place there. So, here are my thoughts.

Being a Western woman reporting on Tyson Fury’s bout with Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia was a complex and unique experience, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Gender segregation, which is a part of daily life in Saudi Arabia, is somewhat relaxed within these sporting bubbles. The opening of Riyadh Season offered a temporary shift from traditional norms to allow more freedom of movement and interaction between men and women.

I felt comfortable greeting and interacting with my male colleagues and it was clear the Saudi Arabian members of staff respected me. Some even called me a ‘superwomen’ for holding my own in a primarily male-dominated industry.

The staff at my hotel went out of their way to make me feel comfortable on arrival. I think they could tell I was apprehensive and unfamiliar with local customs, including restrictions on women’s mobility and autonomy. They reassured me I was safe and that I would be treated well by the locals.

How did you feel in Saudi Arabia? It’s a question I have been asked more times than I can count so here is my experience as a Sports Reporter covering Tyson Fury’s fight with Ngannou

The Gypsy King (R) and Francis Ngannou (L) went toe-to-toe in Riyadh on Saturday evening

That being said, I did experience more extensive visa checks compared to my male counter-parts. After checking in at my hotel, I made my way to my room before being asked to return to the lobby. The manager said he wanted to reassess my visa before allowing me to settle in. None of the male journalists in the hotel were asked to do the same, but I’d hardly say it was an inconvenience.

Plus, I had been treated exceptionally well at immigration at the airport. It was a process I was concerned about before arriving in the country as I had been told about their strict procedures, extensive questioning and conservative customs. However, the officers on duty were nothing but nice to me and offered helpful guidance and assistance.

That being said, it’s important to recognise that such leniency was somewhat specific to tourists and took place in the controlled environment of sporting events. Once outside of this bubble, especially in more traditional areas, the dynamic changed. Had I not adhered to the local customs and dress code I would have felt somewhat uncomfortable – which in my opinion, is reasonable.

Despite wearing long flowing trousers and baggy high-neck blouses, my long blonde hair and Western clothing made me something of a novelty. I stood out and felt the eyeballs on me as I made my way around the City. 

But, although the starring made me feel self-conscious at times, I never felt there was any malice behind it. Instead, it was as though the contrast in my clothing compared to the traditional Arabic attire had generated curiosity and surprise, leading some to stare unintentionally as they grappled with the unfamiliar.

Social interactions became another key aspect of my experience. The majority of my Uber drivers were beyond pleasant, welcoming and conversational. However, some drivers refrained from speaking to me due to cultural norms and a sense of modesty. They may have been concerned about avoiding any potential misinterpretation or offense.

As someone who loves to chat to new people, I found uncertainty over social interaction unnerving. I didn’t want to speak out of turn or put the Saudi Arabian locals in an uncomfortable position. But, as I settled into the city I grew in confidence and learnt to navigate such situations.

So I guess I have to ask myself, would I visit Saudi Arabia again? Absolutely. Would I feel comfortable covering another fight in the Kingdom? Absolutely. Would I tell my female colleagues to put their names forward for upcoming fights? Absolutely.

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