Somali women defy danger to write basketball history

It’s just a few minutes after the final whistle has blown and the shiny basketball court of the Al Gharafa Sports Hall in Doha is filled with shouts and cheers.

The sky blue-clad national women’s basketball team from war-ravaged Somalia has just beaten Qatar, the host nation, at the 2011 Arab Games, in a hotly-contested match that ended 67-57 to the East African country.

“Words can’t describe how I felt,” says Canadian-born Somali team member Khatra Mahdi about last week’s triumph. “We were all jumping up and down, there were tears in the girls’ eyes — history was made right there,” she adds.

The victory marked a remarkable feat for the Somali players as it came against a backdrop fraught with difficulties and danger.

Notwithstanding Somalia’s prolonged civil war and shattered sports infrastructure, the team says it had to prepare for the Games in the bullet-ridden police headquarters in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. There, the women would train for two to three hours a day under the watchful eye of security officers, tasked to safeguard them against religious militants targeting women playing the sport.


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