Somalia's search for a lucky break
> Piers Edwards |
13:50 UK time,
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
As you flick on your television to watch
> England take on
Spain on Saturday, you may like to thank your lucky stars for being able to
follow the game so easily.
It's second nature - a ritual almost without thought - as is playing
football for most of the world's enthusiasts. But would you risk your life
to carry out either pastime?
I only ask because they do in Somalia, which is why you might like to root
for their embattled footballers on Saturday - especially if you have
Britain's traditional fondness for the underdog.
Because there can be few teams with the odds more stacked against them than
the collection of individuals who face a daily fight just to play the game -
often having to disguise their intentions to do so.
> Saturday marks the
beginning of Somalia's 2014 World Cup adventure, although just making it to
the start line for their preliminary qualifier against Ethiopia is
The Somalis' 'home leg' will actually be played in Djibouti though because
Somalia - widely described as a failed state and without an effective
government in two decades - is considered
dangerous to host matches.
Living in the middle of a war zone is the first hurdle for Somalia's
footballers. It was one which Under-20 starlet Abdi Salaan Mohamed Ali was
unable to overcome in February, after he became the
> tragic victim
of a suicide bomber after leaving training one day.
Then there's the mere challenge of just being able to play football at all.
For notwithstanding the country's drought, famine and political instability,
the game is outlawed in many parts of Somalia by the
> militant Islamist group
al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda.
And despite the heavy involvement of many of the world's Muslim nations in
national and international football, playing football in Somalia is fraught
"It was four years ago that they described football as unIslamic or
Satanic," says Shafi'i Mohyaddin Abokar, the
> Somali Football Federation (SFF) press
officer. "According to the Islamists, football is totally banned in Somalia
- as it is something that steers the young people away from the path of
So much so that Somalia is a place where al-Shabab cannot even tolerate
people watching the game on television.
Those Somalis wishing to play football, especially the ones who have to
travel in from al-Shabab controlled areas, go to extraordinary lengths to
They regularly hide their football kits under Islamic dress as they cross
checkpoints into the government-controlled areas, so that no militant will
discover their real intention.
"That's the culture - because the young players want to train and play,"
says the SFF's secretary general, Abdi Qani. "Normally, every place in
Mogadishu or Somalia is a risk but the objective of the young generation is
to play or watch or support football - that is the aim."
Football in Somalia is exceptionally popular - some estimating that 85-90%
of the population love the game.
And those who run Somali football display unbridled passion as they work
tirelessly to ensure the game can continue, often at sizeable personal cost
both in terms of time and money.
Qani has spent much of his recent time trying to raise cash from the Somali
diaspora on sponsorship crusades in Europe.
Because without governmental support and a wholesale absence of sponsorship,
the SFF survives on the annual US$250,000 (£157,000) grant that every
national association receives from Fifa - but which many dismiss as chicken
feed (Brazil's sponsorship deal is worth over US$100m).
Victory over Ethiopia would take Somalia into a financially-crippling
qualifying group that would involve trips to South Africa, Botswana and
Central African Republic. I asked Qani the faintly-absurd question of
whether he actually wants to win the two-legged play-off.
"We're 100% committed to winning and if we do win, we're preparing to ask
Fifa and the Confederation of African Football for special financial support
for Somalia," he replied.
As athletes like former world 1500m champion
> Abdi Bile and
Somali-born British athlete
athletics-hero-escaped-the-chaos-of-somalia-2037996.html> Mo Farah have
proved, and footballers like
> Chelsea teenager
Islam Feruz may do in future, there is real talent in Somalia.
There is also a devotion to sport that almost beggars belief.
Earlier this year, al-Shabab called the captain of the Somali women's
basketball team to give her a choice - either stop playing basketball or be
killed - with Islamists having issued an order back in 2006 which banned
Somali women from playing sport.
"I will only die when my life runs out - no one can kill me but Allah,"
ays-on-despite-death-threats/> responded a defiant Suweys Ali Jama, who is
currently preparing for December's Arab Games in Qatar. "I will never stop
my profession while I am still alive."
Her words echoed those of fellow basketball players who received similar
death threats when contesting a regional tournament in Kenya, with the
team's male coach saying: "I am ready to die in Mogadishu for the reason
that I have participated in this tournament."
And after the death of under-20 player Abdi Salaan Mohamed Ali earlier this
> the president of
the Somali Football Federation reacted by saying: "we are committed to
continuing our duty in the war-torn country until we meet death."
They are comments and attitudes which put England's clash with Spain into
Football is hugely popular in Somalia despite the numerous challenges
affecting both the watching and playing of the game.
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Received on Thu Nov 10 2011 - 07:35:15 EST