Saudi Arabia will for the first time allow women to attend sports events, preparing special sections in three selected stadiums from early next year in another step toward opening public spaces to women.

The stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh will be set up to accommodate families from early 2018, said the statement from the General Sports Authority, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency late on Sunday. 

Last month Saudi Arabia announced that, from June, women would be allowed to drive cars, ending the world's only ban on female driving. 

An economic and social reform program led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to open up cloistered lifestyles, shaped in part by a strict, conservative version of Sunni Islam that limits the role of women. 

Prince Mohammed also seeks to diversify the economy away from oil as part of his proposed reforms. The crown prince will be the first Saudi leader since 1953 to hail from a new generation when he inherits the throne; his father Salman is the sixth brother in a row to serve as king. 

The kingdom adheres to an austere Wahhabi practice of Sunni Islam, which bans gender mixing, concerts and cinemas. Women are required to receive permission from a male guardian to obtain passports or leave the country. 

Some of the social aspects of the reforms have been criticized by some clerics and Saudis on social media. 

Saudi authorities are also starting to reform areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy, such as education, courts and the law, and have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component or predate Islam.  

Prince Mohammed told businessmen and reporters at a major investment forum last week that the country would move to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.