Somalia has held its first boxing competition in more than three decades, with young fighters in the conflict-torn nation dreaming of a career in international rings.
The three-day lightweight boxing competition that wrapped up on Sunday took place in the capital Mogadishu, where athletes squared off in a ring set up on a basketball court surrounded by ruined buildings that bore witness to the country’s long conflict.
The fighters were cheered by dozens of enthusiastic residents of the capital, many of whom had never seen or heard of boxing before in a country where football and basketball are far more popular, even before the war when such competitions were rare.
“Boxing in Somalia stopped after the civil war and it is now reviving with the fact that the country is recovering from the war,” said Awil Gelle Ahmed, deputy chairperson of the country’s national boxing federation.
The last Somali competition he could recall was in 1982.
“There are significant changes which affect the political and security situation of the country and this competition is part of the changes.”
Ahmed said the competition involved four teams of two people, all from Mogadishu as “we don’t have access to other regions in the country.”
The winner was 21-year-old Mustafa Mohamed Nur, who told AFP: “This was a big day for me, I have become the first Somali to win a boxing competition inside the country since the civil war.”
Another fighter, 21-year-old Abdiasiz Ali Shirad, said he had begun boxing in 2014.
“I want to become like Mohamed Ali and Malik Hawkins so that I can be a national boxer, this is my ambition and I want make my dreams come true,” he said.
Somalia collapsed into civil war in 1991 and since then has endured successive rounds of conflict involving clan-based militias, foreign armies and, latterly, Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists the Al-Shabaab who stage regular deadly attacks on the capital.
Because of the conflict, many Somali athletes compete internationally for adopted nations.
Britain’s most successful track athlete Mo Farah was a Somalian refugee, and title-winning female boxer Ramla Ali and her family fled Mogadishu during the war.
“I’m very happy to see this development which was missing for a long time. Now that the boxing competition is back I think our boxers can compete with counterparts worldwide,” said spectator Mohamed Ahmed Abdulahi.