By James M. Dorsey
A Somali sports journalist was hit in the Somali capital of Mogadishu by stray bullets and killed while covering a soccer match, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).
The death of Ahmed Hassan Ahmed, a sports reporter for SIMBA radio, weeks after a star soccer player was killed in a suicide bombing, highlights that nowhere does soccer involve a greater act of courage and defiance than in war-ravaged Somalia, a soccer-crazy Arab nation straddling Africa’s strategic Gulf of Aden.
Ahmed died of bullet wounds to the stomach and the shoulder. “As we were covering the match between SITT and Dekadaha, Ahmed fell to the ground at the second half of the match ” Somali Football Federation (SFF) spokesman Shafii Mohyadin Abokor said.
Somali league teams SITT and Dekadaha were playing in Mogadishu’s Hodan district as African Union-backed forces were battling militant Islamists of Al Qaeda-associated of Al Shabab, which controls large chunks of Somalia.
Soccer is a major battleground for the 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 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.
James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer