MOGADISHU— For the first time in decades, young basketball players in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, are enjoying better security and playing tournaments at night - attracting more fans.
For years, warlords and terrorists groups denied young Somalis the ability to even play sports.
At the Wiish Stadium in Mogadishu, enthusiastic fans filled the capital’s basketball court to witness a night sporting event - the first in two decades.
Before entry, guards frisk all the supporters to assure attendees, basketball players and officials the game will be secure.
Most of these young Somalis - born after the collapse of the government two decades ago - have never attended a night sports event. This is something the Somali Basketball Federation said is changing now that the country’s security is improving after gains by African Union and Somali forces against al-Shabab militants.
“Many challenges facing the country but security is improving compared to the previous years. Things are changing and that’s why we organized the events to take place at night,” said Hawa Sheikh Ahmed, Deputy Chair of the Somali Basketball Association.
Abdinassir Nur Gedi is a photojournalist, but plays basketball for a local Mogadishu team. He said sport is the best way to unite people and playing games at night will allow more people to come to the games after work.
“I am very happy we play at night. It promotes and encourages security. Young people - me included - come here every evening to watch teams compete instead of wasting time on other irrelevant things," said Nur Gedi. "When I come here to watch the games I feel relaxed and happy that I didn’t waste my time on other things.”
Basketball is the most popular sport among university and high school students in the capital. While each of the 16 districts in Mogadishu has a basketball court, most of them are in a dilapidated state.
Somali Basketball Federation official Mustaf Abdiaziz Mohamed says they are working to change this and night games will attract more support and allow young Somalis to be more competitive in international tournaments.
“Its historic for us because 25 years ago was the last time we witnessed games being played at night. Twenty-five years ago basketball was played at night just like it’s always played in the other parts of the world. So our players will not have a hard time playing at night when they leave for tournaments abroad,” Mohamed said.
In another sign of changing attitudes, the women’s basketball team is also gaining support - despite threats.
This basketball court was named Adan Yabarow Wiish Stadium in honor of the late Somali Olympic committee chief, Adan Haji Yabarow - aka Wiish - who died in a terrorist attack.
It's just one more sign that Somalia is turning from violent anarchy, establishing normalcy and - as the government hopes - creating a safer, prosperous future for its young people.