Somalia’s Islamist Militia Bans Soccer

Somalia’s militant Islamist militia has ordered youth in a town near the capital Mogadishu to stop playing soccer and watching matches on television and to attend mosque prayers and lessons about jihad instead, according to Africa Review.

The publication quoted a resident in Afgoye, 30 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, as saying that youth were afraid of the militia that is associated with Al Qaeda and controls large chunks of war-ravaged Somalia.

He said the Shabab were concerned that youngsters were watching European championships on satellite television.

“The youth is so keen that they discuss players and games of Spain’s La Liga and the English Premiership more than the local issues Some of the boys have started traveling to parts of Mogadishu controlled by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) where satellite TV is uncensored,” Africa Review quoted the resident as saying.

Soccer is a major battleground for the embattled US-backed transitional government and the Al Shabab who have banned the game as ‘un-Islamic.’ Somalia’s U-20 soccer team suffered a serious setback in February when a militant Islamist suicide bomber killed one of its star internationals and wounded two other players.

The attack was also a blow for the Somali Football Federation (SFF) which is waging a campaign to lure child soldiers away from the Islamist militia with the prospect of a soccer career. World soccer body FIFA supports the SFF campaign that has succeeded in turning hundreds of Somali youngsters recruited by the militia into soccer players.

The SFF’s FIFA-backed campaign under the slogan ‘Put down the gun, pick up the ball” is one of the few successful civic efforts to confront the jihadists.

"However difficult our situation is, we believe football can play a major role in helping peace and stability prevail in our country, and that is what our federation has long been striving to attain. Football is here to stay, not only as a game to be played but as a catalyst for peace and harmony in society," Abokar said.

"If we keep the young generation for football, al-Shabab can't recruit them to fight. This is really why al-Shabab fights with us," adds another Somali soccer executive, Abdulghani Sayeed.


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