Somalia: Wartorn Football Premier League Plays Again

The Somalia Premier League officially reopened at the weekend in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Huge numbers of spectators turned up at the world-class stadium to watch Somali Premier League football for the first time in almost two decades.

Top government officials, football federation executive committee members and prominent businesspeople attended a colourful ceremony at the Banadir Stadium to mark the relaunch of the country's Premier League.

The two-decade-long war dealt a blow to professional football in Somalia. But an African Union-led offensive in 2009 drove Islamic insurgents out of the capital, Mogadishu.

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Islamist Al-Shebab fighters banned the mixing of the sexes and the playing or watching of football games.

It's incredible to think then that a large number of women were among thousands of spectators who watched the match last weekend between Heegan and Gaadiidka squads.

Last weekend's match is yet another sign that life is returning to normal in the capital.

Vendors are moving back into the central market, and people dine in outdoor cafes. But the risk of violence remains high. Bombs are detonated regularly.

Football is a tool for peace-building in Somalia, said Somali Football Federation Secretary General Abdi qani Said Arab.

"The message is football is the only tool to use, people to bring together and my message is football is peace," he told RFI. "I am calling all the people, love football, come and see and to support your team and watch the game friendly and disciplinary."

Two foreign players also played in the Premier League match.

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"The atmosphere is amazing, the games are good, every team is playing it's limit, I think the league is very good league," commented one of them, Marcel Samson from neighbouring Kenya. "After two decades finally Somalia at least we have peace."

The Banadir stadium was recently renovated by Fifa.

Artificial turf has been laid, new stands have been constructed and VIP boxes installed.

Abdi Hajji Goo, an avid football fan who travelled several hundred kilometres to be at the Banadir stadium, was very impressed by the refurbishment.

"There is a big change happened in Somalia, I am very happy to attend and watch Somalia Premier League at such beautiful stadium," he enthused.

The match ended with Heegan beating Gaadiidka 3-2. Even though Gaadiidka lost, the atmosphere in the stadium was overwhelmingly positive.

Football was the overall winner, as it has the power to bring peace, development and unity to Somalia.

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