Senior Sports Editor
FOR years it was probably the world’s worst football stadium — a decaying structure with collapsing stands, its pitch replaced by shrubs and weeds while its walls were riddled with bullet holes.
The Islamic militant Al-Shabaab group, which considers football to be evil, once took over the stadium and, between 2008 and 2011, used it as their base.
They also turned it into a gory site for some gruesome things, including public executions.
It’s no surprise the Mogadishu National Stadium last hosted an international football match in 1988 when an Olympic qualifier was held there.
The Somali national football team, the Ocean Stars, have not played a competitive match at home since 1986, when they hosted Uganda in a ‘88 Nations Cup qualifier which ended goalless.
They have been forced to play their matches, including a 2022 World Cup qualifier against the Warriors in September last year, on neutral territory.
That match was played in Djibouti with the Ocean Stars shocking the globe as they posted a stunning 1-0 win over the Warriors, their first victory in a World Cup qualifier in history.
Nine years ago, on September 6, 2011, troops from the African Union’s Peacekeeping Mission In Somalia (AMISOM) took control of the stadium, during a military operation to liberate the country’s capital city from the hard-line Islamic militants.
AMISOM also turned it into their operational base.
However, two years later, in September 2013, the Somali federal government and their Chinese counterparts signed a bilateral agreement for major reconstruction work in the country, over a period of five years.
Several landmarks, including the Mogadishu National Stadium, would undergo major renovations.
Chinese engineers had constructed the stadium in 1978.
Now, the renovations have been completed and authorities expect to host the country’s 60th Independence celebrations, on July 1, inside their main 35 000-seater stadium.
An artificial playing surface was laid with work on the pitch completed on March 27, this year.
“After years of militant and military control, the Somali national stadium in Mogadishu will return to a place for sports,’’ Domo Sports Grass, who laid the artificial surface, said in their report on April 15, this year.
“In 2019 the Somali Football Federation contacted Domo Sports Grass with the request to restore the national stadium to its glory.
“The Somali Football Federation was looking for an exceptional artificial grass product and had put wear resistance and excellent resilience forward as important requirements.
“These requirements matched perfectly with our Domo Duraforce XT, a certified FIFA Quality Pro system, and in October 2019 the offer of Domo Sports Grass was accepted.
‘’The past three months, Domo Sports Grass has been very busy renovating the football pitch of the National Stadium of Somalia in Mogadishu.
“The constructions works started on the 23rd of January 2020 and were finished on the 10th of April 2020.
“Due to the measures concerning the COVID-19 virus, a date has not yet been set for the inauguration of the renewed soccer pitch.’’
Domo Sports Grass are a branch of the Sports and Leisure Group NV, whose headquarters are in Belgium, which “engineers, manufactures and commercialises qualitative artificial grass systems worldwide’’.
FIFA, through their “Win in Africa with Africa’’ project have also funded the refurbishment of the Mogadishu National Stadium.
In 2006, FIFA financed the installation of a new artificial pitch at the same stadium but, just like other facilities, the surface suffered badly from lack of maintenance and issues related to the civil conflict.
The Swedish Government also played a part in the latest renovations.
CAF president, Ahmad Ahmad is one of the high-profile football personalities in the world who have been calling for a return to the game to Somalia as a way of helping and uniting the country.
“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 told reporters.
The way the Somalis have managed to refurbish their biggest stadium, transforming it from an eyesore into a modern facility once again, should provide inspiration for those who have been leading the line to try and get the country’s major stadiums back into shape.
The National Sports Stadium, the traditional home for the Warriors, Barbourfields and Rufaro were all barred by CAF and FIFA from hosting international matches.
The two football governing bodies raised red flags over a number of issues at the three grounds.
It left the Warriors facing the possibility, and embarrassment, of having to play their home matches on neutral soil.
However, the Government intervened and injected funds for the renovations of the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields.
The last time Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister, Kirsty Coventry, toured the giant stadium last month, she was charmed by the progress which has seen its battered pitch being transformed into a fresh and green surface, a new media centre being erected while renovations of the dressing rooms had reached an advanced stage.
“I haven’t been here for about five or six weeks and there has been very drastic changes, especially in the team rooms, in the changing rooms, in the bathrooms, in the media centre here, it’s looking very nice, very professional,’’ she said.
“The team has been working very hard, it’s nice to see that progress has been made, I’m very happy with how things are, (there are) a few minor adjustments, on what I have told the teams, we would like to see.
“The pitch is great, before and after pictures I’m seeing. There has been huge change.
I think what we would ideally want to see, I think in the next 12 months and this will be budget-dependent will be to redo the entire pitch, get a fresh pitch in.
“But, we have to say thank you to Royal Harare Golf Club who have stepped in to come in and lend their advice, lend their expertise and even some of their machinery and equipment.
“They have been very understanding and a big thank you to them for standing up and coming to help another sport, they are still assisting, the pitch is looking remarkable.’’