By Abighani Hirad
The passion for sports is a tradition that is shared throughout Somalia. Somalis are sports enthusiasts, particularly football. However, for more than 25 years Somalia has been marked by armed conflict and clan tensions. These events in the last 25 years have relegated sports to the back, given other competing needs. For example, the sports facilities such as football stadiums, football and basketball fields have fallen into disrepair or have been used for different pressing needs. The recent Regional Football Tournament (RFT) in Mogadishu at Engineer Yarisow Stadium is a success for the Somali sports.
Development of sports is an area with additional investments by the Federal Government of Somalia, and Federal member states (FMS) can be revived because it transcends clan tensions and can be a catalyst to achieve peace and stimulate the development process. Sport can be a peace-multiplier because sport brings young Somalis together and can foster camaraderie and lasting friendship that reduces clan tension and, most of all, the clan fighting. Young Somalis can use sport as a way to channel their energy into something positive and take them out of insular clan silos.
The above picture is a testament that sport can bring communities together and serve as a peace-multiplier.
In addition to bringing together male players and spectators in the Regional Football Tournament (RFT), the Federal Government and Federal Member States should start initiatives to repair basketball and volleyball facilities which will have multipurpose use, such as staging cultural events (concerts, academic competitions, etc.) as was previously done before the civil war.
One of the main objectives of repairing the basketball and volleyball fields is to have young girls participate in these sports. In Somalia, young girls do not play football, but they can play other sports such as basketball and volleyball. The everyday lives of girls and young women both in and outside school or home have so far offered little scope for regular physical activity. There are few, if any, female sports teachers, and the rare exceptions lack appropriate training and skills. Girls can play basketball and volleyball under certain conditions, for example, with female coaches. The plan should be to train female coaches who train the girls to participate in the basketball and volleyball development.
Reviving sports in each region will have a broader relevance, and it will contribute to shared values and a national identity because “sport has its own language, and everyone can speak it. It’s a language of hope, where anything is possible.” The intermingling and camaraderie of the players, communities, and districts will build the capacity of local people to solve their own problems and promote social stability during the post-conflict transition.
Before the civil war, the yearly Regional Football Tournament was the highlight event for Somalia. It was a very festive and socially cohesive period for the regions. During regional tournaments, players and staff from each region were hosted by the hosting region’s local families. For example, players from Gedo, Bay, and Bakol used to stay with local families during the regional tournament taking place in Kismayo.
Reviving the inter-regional, regional, and national sports tournament appears to be ushering in a new era of communities coming together and rebuilding the country. During the civil war, the social fabric and cultural affinities of Somali people have been lost. The RFT is bringing back the regional friendship that existed before the civil war and fostering new ways to resolve conflicts. The RFT should be expanded to the other sports entities and regions of Somalia.
Communities should participate in rebuilding and rehabilitating the sports facilities and bringing players and communities together. Sports leagues in the FMS’s capital cities should be copied to other regions whereby players will be attracted to sports, so they may forget about the trauma they had experienced through years of clan civil strife. The unifying theme of the RFT should be peace and reconciliation through sports and the revival of the lost cultural affinities. Similar initiatives have been successfully implemented in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Rwanda. In recent studies, sport “…has recently been validated by the international community as a tool for economic development and as a catalyst for social inclusion, reconciliation, and peacebuilding.”
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