Sporting authorities in Libya have banned the women's national football team from traveling to Germany for an upcoming tournament, citing religious concerns due to the Ramadan holiday, according to Chris Stephen of The Guardian.
In a move likely to raise questions about its commitment to equal rights, Libya's football association told the team it cannot fly to Germany on Saturday, citing concerns that it takes place within the holy month of Ramadan.
"The federation said you cannot play in Germany because of the need for fasting," said midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed. "We want to go, but they say you cannot go."
The report states the team, which has been training in secret locations, is under threat from religious extremists. It has been forced to use armed guards to prepare for events like the one it has now been barred from attending.
Stephen passes along comments from those who have spoken out about the team:
In June Ansar al-Sharia, the militia linked by some with the killing of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi last September, issued a statement saying it "severely condemned" women's football.
"This is something we cannot have because it does not confirm with sharia law," it said. "It invites women to show off and wear clothes that are inappropriate."
The nation's football association said it continues to support women's football but stated Ramadan forced it to change its stance about the tournament in Germany:
After initially giving permission for the tournament, Libya's FA changed its mind. "It is Ramadan," said the FA general secretary, Nasser Ahmed. "We are not against women playing football."
Although those comments are a positive sign for the team's long-term outlook, they provide little comfort to the squad that was working toward the tournament appearance.
Veteran midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed said the team was disappointed after learning of the decision. The Discover Football tournament is set to showcase teams from around Middle East and the host nation.
El-Alabed, at 37 the oldest player in the squad and who played in Liverpool while earning a Phd in sports science, said the ban had shattered hopes that the fall of Gaddafi would bring social change. "Other teams can play [in Berlin], so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying."
Barring another change of heart by the sporting authorities, the tournament will be without the Libyan squad. The players were looking forward to the opportunity, but it's a touchy situation for everybody involved.
The group in charge of running the event said it will keep the spot available for Libya despite the decision, according to the report. It ensures the door hasn't been completely closed in case something changes.
Tournament organisers say Libya's place will remain open. "We have heard that the football association decided that they are not allowed to go," said Discover Football spokeswoman Johanna Kosters. "We will wait and see if they get on the plane."
As of now, however, a ban has been placed on the team by the Libyan sporting authorities.