FIFA has always regarded football as a source of hope and peace, and last month dream became reality for nearly 30 Somali coaches.
Between 25 and 30 October, the Somalia Football Association (SFF) received a coaching course from FIFA as part of the 'Win in Africa with Africa' programme. It represented the first course organised by FIFA in Somalia in over a decade.
Football is the global sport par excellence, with its simplicity helping it be played and loved across the world. In certain countries and certain contexts, however, football’s universal appeal is simply not enough. Developing the game in Somalia has proved a real challenge, for example, with the country ravaged by conflicts for several decades. FIFA organises courses throughout the world, with almost 400 in 2009, but Somalia had gone without for far too long.
That finally changed in October and the SFF is at last able to tell its own fantastic football story. FIFA's 'Win in Africa with Africa' project is a vast initiative taking in the entire continent with the objective of improving infrastructure and local expertise. The scheme involves holding three different courses in every African national association member country before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, with each course dealing with a theme crucial to the development of football: coaching, refereeing and club management. Unfortunately, because of the constant instability in Somalia, the programme had encountered too many problems for the planned courses to be realistically held there.
FIFA therefore called upon the African football family for help and, thanks to the efforts of the Djibouti Football Association, eventually found a way to hold the courses for Somalia. As the country itself is not safe enough to host such an event, the decision was taken to organise it in Djibouti, with which it shares a border. All that remained was for FIFA to arrange for a bus to take the 29 Somali coaches from Mogadishu to Djibouti for the 'Win in Africa with Africa' coaching programme.
Emotions understandably ran high at the symbolic opening of the first session, particularly among SFF officials. "We thank FIFA for having helped us make possible a course which has been eagerly awaited in a country touched by war, a country in which football is trying to pick itself back up after years of difficulty," said SFF President Said Mahmoud Nur in his opening address. "Without the support and constant help of FIFA and its President Joseph S. Blatter, the Somali Football Association would never have found the ambition to hold this precious course."
"The SFF and FIFA have been working together for a long time on the organisation of this coaching course,” added SFF General Secretary Abdi Qani Said Arab. "Since we’re here and this course is really happening, this day is truly historic for football in our country."
Of course, nothing would have been possible without the generous and charitable participation of Djibouti’s authorities and sporting officials, who answered FIFA's call to support the SFF without hesitation. The privilege of officially opening the course was therefore accorded to the Djibouti's Minister of Sports, Dr. Hasna Daoud Barkat, who took the opportunity to remind his audience of the friendship between his country and Somalia, while once again holding out a hand to his neighbours and guests. "Make yourselves at home," he said.
The course itself, led by Ulric Mathiot, unfolded along typical lines, though the instructor admitted afterwards to having moved by the wider context. "It was a privilege to represent FIFA at this event, fulfilling the wishes of all the actors concerned – the Somali association, the Djiboutian hosts and, of course, the coaches themselves," he said.
"For me, it’s one of the courses that will leave the biggest mark. The knowledge exchanged, the will of the participants to move football forward in their country, their smiles and good humour – all those things made this course a success. Above all, these coaches and the officials from their national association now have an idea of how much work remains as they continue the process of developing football in Somalia."
The course clearly made a telling impact and ought to prove even more influential in Somalia than it has done elsewhere, with Somali trainers enjoying few chances to improve their expertise and knowledge. "Our coaches have already progressed so much thanks to this course and we hope they’ll soon be able to rival their colleagues elsewhere in Africa," said Abdi Qani Said Arab.
Overall, the event went down as a historic date, not least because it opened the door for similar events. "The whole of Somalia's football family is involved in promoting our football, whatever the dangers and circumstances," explained Abdi Qani Said Arab. "We’ll continue to work hard despite the difficulties. As our first course turned out to be a success, we, as the people responsible for football in Somalia, ask FIFA and its President to offer us more courses, on refereeing, management, sports medicine and so on."
With this elite-level coaching course being provided in addition to an artificial pitch currently under construction, plus training and competition equipment, the 'Win in Africa with Africa' project is keeping its promises in Somalia, despite the obvious obstacles in the road. For Somali football, the hope of better days to come is at last becoming possible.