Sport Mogadishu youth seeks solace in basketball

Mogadishu youth seeks solace in basketball

 

Haji Abdullahi Yabarow Basketball Stadium
Haji Abdullahi Yabarow Basketball Stadium

(AA) – The screech of trainers on the court, the bouncing of the ball, the shout of players, the dunk into the basket, the sudden, loud applause from a fully packed stadium.

Welcome to Mogadishu’s newly opened Haji Abdullahi Yabarow Basketball Stadium, the most popular hangout for residents of a city otherwise associated with bombings and bloodshed.

“I’m a big basketball fan,” Mustafa Yarow, a 32-year-old Somali who recently returned from the U.S., told The Anadolu Agency.

“Since I came back to Mogadishu from Minnesota, my favorite pastime has been watching basketball at the new stadium,” he asserted.

Female basketball fans – of all ages – come out to cheer their favorite teams. Sometimes, they are louder than their male counterparts.

Before civil war broke out in 1991, Somalia had boasted one of Africa’s most promising basketball teams, on par with African champions Algeria, Senegal, Angola and Egypt.

The sport has a huge following in the Horn of Africa country.

“Basketball is back in Somalia after many years,” Abdullahi Mohamed, director of the Somalia Basketball Federation (SBF), told AA.

The federation has grown over the last two years and now has ten teams playing in Somalia’s national league.

Mohamed, however, says more funding is needed to return Somali basketball to its former glory.

“The return of basketball to Mogadishu is a great opportunity for the youth,” he said.

“The lack of social amenities is one reason why many young people are easily brainwashed into joining militant groups like Al-Shabaab or abusing drugs,” the SBF official contended.

“They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” he added.

-Peace-

Mogadishu is experiencing an economic boom attributed to recent gains made by African Union peacekeepers against Al-Shabaab, the return of Somalis from the diaspora, and aid from donor countries, notably Turkey.

The local sports scene has benefited significantly from the boom.

“This has been made possible by the normalcy that is slowly returning to the capital,” said Mohamed, the basketball federation chief.

“That has made it possible for teams to be formed. Now we have a proper league,” he added.

Amin Daud, a 28-year-old basketball fan, agrees.

“We are enjoying peace in Mogadishu,” he told AA. “That’s why, today, it is possible to go and watch a basketball match at night.”

Daud recalled that, not so long ago, people could not move around the capital at night.

“When Al-Shabaab were in control, sports was banned,” he recalled.

For years, the militant group held sway over the Somali capital and were only ousted from Mogadishu in mid-2012.

While Al-Shabaab recently lost large swathes of central and southern Somalia to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somalia army, it continues to stage deadly attacks on government officials and security personnel.

Beside the new basketball stadium, which opened late last year with a seating capacity of 1,000, Mogadishu also now boasts an artificial turf stadium and a league that has attracted professional footballers from Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

“Before the new basketball and football stadiums, we would mostly hang out at home or in the neighborhoods chewing khat,” said Daud, referring to a popular stimulant.

“Nowadays, my friends and I prefer to come watch basketball games,” he added.

Abdinasir Guled, another Mogadishu youth, voiced similar sentiments.

“This is our only form of entertainment in Mogadishu,” he told AA.

“There are no movie theaters, shopping malls or other entertainment spots, like in other capital cities. Sports is the only way for us to seek solace from the daily challenges we face,” Guled asserted.

“So we go to watch the game, laugh with friends, and go home happier and healthier,” he added.

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