As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers.
FIFA has begun training referees in Somalia for the first time since the collapse of the country’s government in the early 1990’s. While Djibouti played host to previous FIFA training sessions for Somalis due to Mogadishu's ongoing insecurity, the recent dislodging of terrorist groups throughout the country has allowed the program to return.
At a recent high-level training in the recently refurbished Banadir stadium, which was damaged during the decades-long civil war, up to 30 local and international referees drawn from across the country take a fitness test given by two seasoned FIFA experts.
Aweys Abdullahi, one of the beneficiaries of this year's training sessions, is among the few Somali assistant referees who have already officiated international matches.
“I officiated many international football matches, like in Tunisia, where I took part in a match between Libya and Chad, [and] I also officiated in Angola this year," he says. "I became an International Assistant Referee in 2014. I hope to learn more and gain more experience so that I can officiate a World Cup final match in 2018. That is my dream.”
For three days, FIFA’s Ahmed Al-Shanawi leads training of Somali sports officials, the second time FIFA has conducted such training on Somali soil. It was last year, when FIFA first provided grassroots training for young players in Mogadishu.
“There was a period in Somalia [when] things were not good and its image was not conducive for FIFA courses," says Al-Shanawi. "But now FIFA are very happy, and, also this year, I think FIFA have sent a lot of things that are very good for the referees, and next year, Insha'allah, will send more and more.”
With the latest training, these young referees can officiate major league matches in their home countries or work with FIFA in international matches abroad.
As young Somalis take advantage of the new-found stability and join local sport teams, the Somali government says it is committed to support sporting activities in a bid to keep youth on the field instead of joining terrorist organizations.