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In Kadafi's Libya, even soccer was ruthless

In Benghazi, the beloved soccer club ran afoul of Moammar Kadafi and his soccer enthusiast son, Saadi. The result was the destruction of the team and its facilities more than a decade ago.

May 14, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

Apart from vandalism and destroying public property, the charges included more ominous allegations: contacts with dissidents abroad, a capital offense.

Trials were held. Three of those declared guilty were handed death sentences. At the eleventh hour, however, it was announced that Kadafi the merciful had intervened. He commuted the capital cases to life in prison. The three ultimately served five years in custody.

Benghazi's club was no more. People here believe that Kadafi personally ordered the bulldozing of the Al Ahli facilities, a once-buzzing 15-acre compound where professional, amateur and casual athletes used to train and people from throughout town came to socialize.

Fans mourned as if they had lost a loved one.

"I love football, but I couldn't have anything to do with it after that experience," says Mohammed, the barista, who was jailed for more than a month. "The sport was dead for me."

Saadi went off to play in Europe. He spent only a few minutes on the field for an Italian club, Perugia, before failing a drug test and being bounced. He later resurfaced with another Italian team. The joke here is that he is the only professional soccer player who paid to be on a team, rather than being paid to play.

In 2004, Al Ahli Benghazi was restored, initially as a second-division squad. The Kadafi regime never explained the club's rehabilitation, but analysts here note that Saadi had moved on to other pursuits. The government even promised to help construct a new headquarters for Al Ahli; many doubted the sincerity of the offer.

On the edge of downtown Benghazi, the former grounds of the Al Ahli club remain a desolate expanse of battered grandstands, abandoned light posts and concrete rubble, a barren monument to the intersection of sports and politics in Moammar Kadafi's Libya.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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