In an old black-and-white photo, a boxer in shorts and a T-shirt: this is an “ambitious” boy before the dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi banned the sport that ran through his veins in Libya in the late 1970s.
A 63-year-old man from Tripoli wants to show AFP this photo that he keeps proudly and nostalgically on the back of his phone. He was just 19 in 1979 when Gaddafi banned boxing, wrestling and all combat sports.
“We were a complete group (…), we should play in Italy. Then, suddenly, boxing was banned. Why?” Surprised Omar disappointed. The sixty-year-old adds: “There was friendship, love and boxing represented everything.”
Officially, the sport was considered extremely violent under Gaddafi, a regime accused of the worst atrocities during his 42 years in rule: terrorism, torture, massacres of civilians and targeted killings.
For Libyans, the obsessed “dictator Muammar” disapproved of individual sports because they could create “heroes” who would steal their attention.
After the 2011 revolution that led to Gaddafi’s downfall and death, Omar Zlitn was reunited with his old friends. Together they rebuilt boxing through “personal efforts” and rebuilt the National Boxing Federation.
Since then, Libyan boxers have shined in various competitions, such as Malik Zinad, a local icon who traveled to Great Britain and became very popular in Europe and the world.
lack of opportunities
In the desert of Tripoli, under the roof of a tin barn, young people compete in an old arena visibly dusty. Objective: to select the players of the national team for the African qualification phase of the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
After becoming a coach, Zeltny laments the lack of government support, the rudimentary training squad he and former champions paid for “out of their own pockets”.
But the former boxer expressed his happiness to see so many young people freely pursuing their passion and “waving the flag of Libya” in foreign countries after Gaddafi. Dozens of fans sitting on plastic chairs applaud as the boxer grabs his gloves and fights passionately against his opponent.
In the closed hall and among the crowd, the face of a woman appears, a girl called Muntaha al-Toham, a rare boxer in this very conservative country. Muntaha, 25, says her father encouraged him after he immigrated to the United States at a young age to train in boxing.
Muntaha recounts her experience with a sport often reserved for men: “Among the girls of my generation, we didn’t know that there were others playing sports with them”, says a young woman who went up to support her partner with a laugh: “Even here, we were surprised to see a woman.” She added, “Since you’re a woman, your gender doesn’t preclude you from exercising.”
endurance and patience
Since 2011, several combat sports have emerged in Libya. And he showed a special passion practicing kickboxing and Thai boxing, for example. Here, Omar Buhvia works out on a special mat in a modern gym in Tripoli.
Wearing gloves and shorts the color of Libya, he swings his fingers with big fists and punches, an image he shares with his 14,000 Instagram followers.
In 2013, this fan of action movies “by chance” found a Facebook group dedicated to kickboxing in his hometown of Benghazi (east).
“This sport allowed me to gain more confidence in myself, get rid of negative energies, feel responsible and more communicative”, says the 29-year-old athlete, winner of several local and regional competitions.
And he admits that “our level is still low” due to the backwardness of neighboring countries. But in recent years, “patience and patience” have made it possible to “break down” the prejudice against Libyans, says Omar, an enthusiastic sportsman.
Omar dreams of becoming world champion and ends with the words “Nothing is impossible”, referring to the aspiration of the Libyan centre, which is experiencing chaos and instability.
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