Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SOMALIA: All to play for in unifying football tournament

SOMALIA: All to play for in unifying football tournament

NAIROBI, 21 December 2010 (IRIN) - Holding a football tournament with
teams from 15 regions of Somalia is an achievement in itself - but the
organizers hope it will do more than only bring players together.

"The footballers taking part in the tournament have never known a
unified Somalia; this is an opportunity for them to interact,"
Abdirashid Hassan Baki, the deputy president of Somalia's Football
Federation (SFF), said. "We hope the tournament will also boost peace
and reconciliation in our country."

Somalia has been embroiled in conflict since 1990, with more than 1.4
million displaced and 600,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. The
UN estimates more than two million Somalis need humanitarian

"The fact that we are even holding this football tournament for the
first time since 1987 is in itself an achievement. This, to me, is a
miracle and a beginning for peace and reconciliation. This is sport at
its best. It reminds me of the 'ping-pong' between China and the US
[when the US and China started their rapprochement under Richard

At least 290 young Somali football players are taking part in the
20-day tournament, which opened on 15 December in Garowe, capital of
the autonomous region of Puntland. It is jointly organized by
Puntland, northeastern Somalia and the SFF for Somali youths from 15
of Somalia's original 18 regions.

Somalia has, over the years, split into three distinct areas. What
was the northern region of Somalia is now the self-declared republic
of Somaliland, the northeastern regions are now the autonomous regions
of Puntland and the south and central are controlled by the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and large parts of it by
Islamist Al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam groups.

Baki said many of the players came from regions controlled by
different groups "but they all allowed them to come and participate".

Emotional opening

Abdisamad Sheikh Hamud, a footballer representing Nugal region of
Puntland, told IRIN the tournament's opening ceremony was very
emotional for many players.

"There were a lot of people crying, mostly the older people who could
remember [a unified] Somalia," Hamud said. "It is the first time for
the majority of us to attend anything that brought Somalis together.
We all felt like true Somalis. No clans or regions."

Hamud said the tournament was an opportunity "to meet young people
like us from across Somalia, who we may never have met otherwise. I
hope to make lifelong friends."

Ahmed Egal Awale, the Puntland deputy minister of sports, said most
of the tournament's participants were born after the collapse of the
Somali state in 1991. "It is their first experience of an all-Somali
affair. Today in Garowe you will see youth from Mogadishu or Baidao,
with others from Nugal or Sool. I don't think they ever thought they
would get such an opportunity.

"I have no doubt that this will contribute to peace and
reconciliation in our country. It is bringing us together. It is a
wonderful feeling."

Baki of the SFF said many of the youth from south and central Somalia
were for the first time playing football without being afraid of
shells or bullets - "a new thing for many".


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