MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) Somalia could host international games again for the first time in nearly 30 years after the new head of African soccer said on Tuesday he’s open to the idea.
Confederation of African Football president Ahmad invited Somalia to start by organizing friendly games against neighbor Djibouti in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Mogadishu last hosted a senior international in 1988.
Somalia has been wracked by violence and chaos since the early 1990s, first because of a civil war and now deadly attacks by homegrown Islamist extremist group al-Shabab.
But the situation has improved.
Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed used Ahmad’s visit to request his country be allowed to host international soccer again.
Ahmad, who beat longtime African soccer boss Issa Hayatou in an election last month, made a two-day visit to Somalia on Monday and Tuesday, his first official trip as CAF president.
“Holding friendly matches in Mogadishu will help a lot to encourage sports and help Somalia regain its sports glory and I have asked Djibouti and Somalia to start playing the first friendly matches,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad also promised to lobby Somali officials so that Mogadishu’s biggest stadium can be used for soccer again. The 33,000-seat stadium currently acts as a base for African Union troops, who are in the country to help fight al-Shabab.
Sports authorities in Somalia have tried a number of times to get the stadium back.
“I have met Somali leaders and they agreed to have the stadium handed over so that sports can be played there again,” Ahmad said. “And I shall push this further with relevant authorities.”
Somalia has never qualified for the World Cup or African Cup of Nations but soccer is easily the country’s most popular sport.
“Somalia is a football country and has no history with any other sport,” said Mohamed, who is also a new leader having been elected in February.
While Somalia has never made it to the top tournaments, it plays regularly in the East African regional tournament. For decades, the team has been forced to play its “home” games in neutral countries like Ethiopia and Djibouti because of security fears in Mogadishu.