By Rhiannon Smith.
Tripoli, 22 April:
Attention all military personnel, politicians and wealthy business figures hoping one day to acquire a country of . . .[restrict]your own to rule as you wish. An informal study of the illustrious 42-year rule of the late Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s all powerful ‘Brother Leader’, has revealed that stamping out sport by any means necessary is crucial to preserving a dictator’s position as the unrivalled champion of his nation’s hearts and minds.
In Qaddafi’s Green Book, the ex-leader dictates that sport should be for the masses and not for individuals to monopolise; therefore professional sports should be actively discouraged and obstructed. The rationale behind this, as explained to the population at large, is that it is blatantly immoral for a handful of people to gain fame and fortune just because they happen to be particularly good at throwing, kicking or running. It must be made clear to the nation that this philosophy aims to protect normal people from the fatal attraction of spectator sports.
Of course, the real justification for neglecting sport is quite different, as any dictator worth his salt will know. The successful despot must go to any lengths necessary to prevent his people from excelling in sport, or even taking part in it to begin with. Qaddafi of course knew this. Anyone who thinks that line about “Sports for the masses” means encouraging sport and exercise at a grass roots level has got the wrong end of the stick. The real meaning is quite the opposite: “NO sport for the masses.”
You see, Qaddafi had thought this all through. If he had started spending even a little of Libya’s vast oil revenue on providing basic public sports facilities in Libya’s towns and cities, then there would have been a real danger that people would start using them. To begin with, they might start doing it just to get fit and healthy, or even because they enjoy the sport and the exercise, but eventually there would be Libyans who got really good at one particular sport. They would have dreams and aspirations about becoming regional, national and even international champions, bringing glory and prestige to Libya and its people.
Clearly a situation to be avoided at all costs.
The first rule of dictatorship is to ensure that there is only one person upon whom the hopes and desires of a nation rest – only one person who can evoke national pride and patriotism and only one person who represents the country to the rest of the world.
If that person is not you, the leader, then quite frankly you may not be the tyrannical ruler you thought you were. The only exception to this rule is if one of your nearest and dearest turns out to have some sporting talent, however limited.
If this is the case then it is in your interest to propel this family member into the sporting limelight, no expenses barred. After all they won’t earn fame in their own right; they will be famous for being related to you. You can guarantee that in every news report, interview or article describing their sporting achievements, your name will be mentioned. A win-win situation.
So how does one go about discouraging, neglecting and generally preventing sports from taking place?
Start with walking — walking, the basis on which all physical activity is built. If people never get to experience walking then there is little chance they will ever progress to jogging, running, or any other kind of athleticism. The solution is obvious; eliminate walking, eliminate the very seeds of a sporting culture. Tripoli is Gaddafi’s finest example of an environment where walking has been made nearly impossible. Libya’s sprawling capital city has barely a consistent, usable pavement in sight. Walk out of any house in Tripoli and try to walk for more than 30 minutes without ducking under trees, stepping over piles of rubbish or finding that the pavement has inexplicably turned into part of the road.
To ensure that the concept of a casual stroll becomes truly repellent, try the following. Never bother to repair the roads, do not impose traffic rules and make fuel so cheap that people feel guilty if they don’t use their cars.
The result? A traffic nightmare which will deter even the most determined walker, let alone jogger, from enjoying their city. Either the traffic will be so heavy that the noise, fumes and sheer volume of cars will make walking anywhere near them highly unpleasant, or the cars will be driving so fast and erratically that the chances of anyone making it from A to B in one piece will be slim to none.
Once driven from the streets, people may turn to sports facilities in order to exercise: swimming pools, sports pitches, gyms and the like. Now admittedly sport is known to have some health benefits (doctors do sometimes prescribe exercise for certain conditions) so banning sport outright is unfortunately not an option. It is also important to give the youth some space in which to vent their energy (pent up energy and the frustrations of youth being precursors to revolts, revolutions and other distasteful things of that ilk). Therefore providing limited sports facilities such as football pitches and running tracks can be beneficial. However, there is no reason to ensure public sports facilities are well maintained, and private gyms, such as there are, should be for the most part stuffy, expensive and ill-equipped. It wouldn’t do for exercisers to have too much fun.
Now, although we have seen that sport can be very dangerous to the aspiring dictator, occasional international achievements are nonetheless to be encouraged. An Olympic team, a place in a world championship final, or even a medal here or there can be useful. It raises the nation’s profile and more importantly gives the international press a reason to mention the leader of said nation.
Muammar Qaddafi managed to rule Libya for 42 years, and his active neglect of sport was of course just one of the many tactics he used to consolidate his power (note to those seeking complete domination: you will need to do more than just eliminate sport).
It is, however, an effective technique and in theory following the advice outlined above will help any aspiring autocratic ruler to maintain a position of authority and adulation among his people. But, be warned. No matter how carefully you plot, plan and purge to achieve supremacy, you will never be truly untouchable, as demonstrated by Qaddafi’s sticky end in Libya,
Once people start to realise they have been fooled and cheated out of a better life at the expense of your own power, fame and glory, then they often start to get uneasy and they ask questions. When no answers are forthcoming — answering questions is never a good idea — those asking the questions may start to become angry and frustrated. If they have no way to vent this anger, then it tends to build up and eventually explode. If this happens then, as was the case with Qaddafi in Libya, you will have an uprising on your hands, and the main problem with uprisings, aside from the violence, is that people suddenly begin to understand that they don’t have to be controlled by a tyrant anymore. They realise that in actual fact their once feared and revered ruler is a human being no different from anyone else and can be treated as such.
If this ever happens, the best advice is to run, and hope you never gave those chasing you the chance to get fit!
Rhiannon Smith is a trainer, researcher and translator at Tripoli-based company Know Libya. She first came to Libya in 2010 and now lives and works there. [/restrict]