Freedom to run?


It’s amazing what we take for granted. Just the simple choice of being able to go outside and run, isn’t available to all females. I read this article about the female runners being selected for the 400-metres at the 2012 Olympics.

MOGADISHU, 17 April 2012 (IRIN) – The Somali Athletics Federation will select one female runner from a field of 10 to compete in the 400-metres at this year’s London Olympics. The youngest of those currently training in Mogadishu is Najma, 10. She started running six months ago, shortly after Al-Shabab left the city. “My father encouraged me,” said Najma.

She knows she is lucky – most girls in Somalia do not enjoy such freedom. The head coach of the Athletics Federation, Ahmed Ali Abikar, said it is very difficult for female athletes in Mogadishu to train. “Society doesn’t understand about sport for girls. They cannot train everywhere, they are teased. But they know why they’re doing it,” he said.

Najma and Leila, 15, meet every Saturday to race around the 400m track at the bullet-ridden Konis Stadium in downtown Mogadishu, a city which until August 2011 was occupied by Al-Shabab insurgents. Leila, a slight and self-possessed young woman with a bright red scarf covering her hair and glittering gold earrings, remembers a time when she had to conceal her tracksuit beneath a burka until she was in a secure compound where it was safe to run. “The stadiums were closed because of the fighting”, she said.


Leila has been training for three years and says she has always been interested in sport – something which both the mayor of Mogadishu and the prime minister of Somalia regularly express their desire to promote. She says girls in Mogadishu can now choose from basketball, handball and athletics. “When I’m running, I’m happy. It gives me real pleasure”, she said.


Determined girls like Leila are staking their claim to freedom and choice.

I’ll be watching the Olympics through new eyes.

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