The Somali Football Federation on Thursday denied reports that it invited the al-Qaeda-linked rebel group al-Shabab to take part in the ongoing football league in the east African country. The BBC on Monday quoted the country’s football chief Abdi Qani Said Arab as saying that “if the militants like to play, they will be given a chance”.
According to the report, Arab believes some al-Shabab members attend football matches in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The football association dismissed the report as false. “Football has nothing to do with politics. It is really very shameful experience that international media are going to mess something up,” the statement added.
Al-Shabab, which considers government officials and anyone working for the government as apostate, often carries out suicide attacks and targeted assassination against officials. Football is the most popular sport in Somalia, a country of about 10 million people and Al-Shabab fighters, when not in the trenches, often take part in football games in areas under its control.
Players in al-Shabab-controlled areas are not allowed to wear shorts and are encouraged to wear tracksuits which must reach below the knees. The country’s football league, which has attracted 20 foreign players, has been making a strong comeback since the rebel group were pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011.