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Somalia Olympic boss ready to risk all for sport

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

LONDON — Somalia’s acting National Olympic Committee president, Duran Farah, recently said he was aware of the danger he faced but was prepared to risk all as he tries to rebuild his country’s sporting infrastructure.

Farah, who is in his early 40s and moved to London from Somalia in his late teens, had the dangers brought home on April 4.

Then National Olympic Committee president Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur were among six people killed by a female suicide bomber at Mogadishu’s national theatre in an attack claimed by al-Shabaab rebels affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Somalia has been in political chaos and deprived of an effective central government since the fall of President Siad Barre in 1991. But a new administration took office in September, ending eight years of transitional rule by a graft-riddled government.

"I had never before missed an event with the president," Farah told AFP. "I don’t know if it was fate, but I woke up late that morning. I can still recall the last time I heard his voice.

"The president rang me about eight in the morning. ‘Where are you,’ he says, and when I reply I have just woken up, he says. ‘No, don’t worry, stay there, don’t come now as the roads will be sealed off. See you at lunch.’

"A little while later a colleague rang me and asked if I was at the theatre."

However, Farah was undeterred by that tragedy and has carried on the work he and Wiish started.

"We (he and fellow National Olympic Committee members) decided if you leave it like that and drop everything, then the country won’t develop.

"One has to make sacrifices. However, mine are nothing in comparison to another former London boy, Mohamed Nur, who has made changes you cannot imagine since he became mayor of Mogadishu in 2010."

Farah, a smiling and cheerful character, but also extremely humble, said he and some colleagues had devised a four-year strategic plan for rebuilding Somalian sports, which is quite a challenge with not one running track in the country.

His priority is to start by changing the attitudes of children before trying to attract outside investment by governments and expatriates to build facilities.

"Unicef’s latest report revealed that less than 20% of Somalian children go to school. There is a high rate of illiteracy and unemployment, which makes them vulnerable to joining gangs, militias or the pirates," he said.

"A lot have lost all hope and are lost to society. However, sports can play a role not just in getting them involved physically, but in rehabilitating them. Also, if we can establish some sort of league, it gives them another sort of allegiance, to a team, rather than an outlaw gang.

"If we can rehabilitate school and community sports programmes, it will give them skills for life. We are dreaming of that. Sometimes the dream is difficult to fulfil."

Farah, who is hopeful that a foreign government will help finance the once impressive Olympic Village in Mogadishu, which includes a 40,000-capacity stadium, said Europeans should not feel smug about the disintegration of Somalian civil life.

"Imagine what things might be like in Europe if the millions of young who week in and week out go to support their team suddenly didn’t have that?" he said.

Farah said that sending some of his compatriots to be trained as sports trainers at the Generations for Peace training camps, set up by Prince Feisal Al Hussein of Jordan, would help to spread the message of how sport can break down political barriers and enmities.


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