January 8, 2020 / 11:20 PM / 11 days ago

Rubiales hails Super Cup transformation in Saudi Arabia

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Spain Press Conference - Spanish Football Federation Headquarters, Las Rozas, Madrid, Spain - November 19, 2019 Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales during the press conference REUTERS/Susana Vera

JEDDAH (Reuters) - The Spanish Super Cup has grown significantly in stature with its move to Saudi Arabia, national soccer federation chief Luis Rubiales said on Wednesday after Real Madrid beat Valencia 3-1 in the opening match of the revamped tournament in Jeddah.

Rubiales angered Spanish soccer traditionalists by expanding the contest between the league champions and Copa del Rey winners to a four-team format, shifting the event from August to January and pledging to take it outside Spain.

He also faced a huge a backlash from campaign groups for signing a three-year deal to play the competition in Saudi Arabia, which is frequently accused of human rights abuses and where women were banned from attending matches until 2018.

“Today the Super Cup has taken a big step forward,” Rubiales told reporters after the match at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium, which will also host Thursday’s semi-final between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

“When we planned the changes last year we didn’t know which teams would be playing but by betting on this format we knew we would turn a low-key summer event into a huge competition. Now it’s the most important short tournament in the world.”

Rubiales has sought to counter the backlash against choosing Saudi Arabia as hosts by arguing that the tournament could open up the conservative Muslim kingdom to the world.

He reiterated that football could be a catalyst for change.

Wednesday’s match was the first that women could watch live without restrictions having previously had to sit in a special ‘family’ section of the stadium.

“Football is not the solution to anything but it can open up doors and I feel very positive today after seeing women and girls in the crowd today,” he added.

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis

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