CAF chief Ahmad wants Somalia to host international fixtures again
Somalia could host international games again for the first time in nearly 30 years after the new head of African football said on Tuesday he's open to the idea.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad invited Somalia to start by organising friendlies against neighbor Djibouti in the Somali capital Mogadishu, which 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 football again.
Ahmad, who beat longtime African 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 football 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 have never qualified for the World Cup or African Nations Cup but football 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 have never made it to the top tournaments, they play regularly in the East African regional tournament. For decades, the team has been forced to play their "home" games in neutral countries like Ethiopia and Djibouti because of security fears in Mogadishu.