By Mohammed Elsharif.
Tripoli, 22 November:
Tripoli’s first boxing tournament in more than three decades begins this evening, Thursday, in what used to . . .[restrict]be the capital’s official boxing hall before Qaddafi banned the sport in 1979.
Some ten newly formed Tripoli clubs will compete in the Akasha hall in the tournament, which has been organised by the new Boxing Federation and will run today and Friday.
“It’s an opportunity to officially bring the sport back to Libya”, said Nasser Eden, a former boxing champion and now coach of the Mahalla boxing team. “This will be the first of many events.”
Benghazi previously held its own inaugural boxing tournament two months ago.
All participating boxers gathered at midday Wednesday for the official weigh-in, with the weights recorded by a team of trained judges who assigned each competitor to his proper weight class. The boxers then turned their attention to the lists of matches hung on each wall, where the competitors discover the name of their opponents.
Boxers from a wide range of weights and ages are competing, including twins Motassim and Motaz Agila, aged 15, who are almost impossible to tell apart.
“I just don’t want to fight my brother” said Motassim, explaining that the two have been sparring partners from the day they got into the game together eight months ago.
As the opening of the tournament approached this afternoon, the hall filled with boxers and spectators eagerly awaiting the coming matches.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me”, said Hmeda Masallem, a light heavyweight boxer standing 196 cm tall. Recalling how he used to watch boxing matches as child, but never had the privilege of participating himself, Masallem says bluntly: “I want to win no matter what”.
Prior to being banned, boxing was one of the major sports in Libya, with athletes competing at the Olympics and many other tournaments. The former dictator was notoriously hostile to sport, however, viewing it as a medium through which alternative “heroes” could be created to rival himself.
Famously, Qaddafi even went to the length of banning sports commentators from referring to any Libyan footballer by his name, meaning that resorted instead to using the numbers on the strip only. Qaddafi’s footballing son Saadi, needless to say, was exempt from this moratorium.
Now, Libya’s new generation of boxing say they want to revive the sport back to it’s glory days.
“I’m ready”, said Masallem, as he looked for the name of his opponent hanging on the wall. “I want to make it to the Olympics.”