For the first time in 16 years Muqdisho Stadium hosted a football game. Unfortunately, just after its conclusion the venue was shelled with mortar and had to be evacuated.
It's hard to believe that the 2.5-million metropolis of Mogadishu had no professional football stadium for two decades. It's thus no wonder that yesterday was a special day. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed personally visited the facilities of renovated Muqdisho Stadium ahead of the first official football game in 16 years, a friendly between Morseed SC and Mogadishu City Club.
Though both teams are popular locally, only the modest VIP section in the west was opened for the match, which was broadcasted live on national TV.
In order to ensure the event's safety a massive 5-kilometre perimeter was created and checkpoints set up. Despite heavy rain in the afternoon, the president did come indeed. Not only did he kick the first ball, he also lit the Olympic torch on top of the north curve.
The game was held under floodlights as planned, seeing Horseed win 2:1. However, players didn't even have time to leave the field when mortar shells began falling onto the field and stands. Everyone fled the venue immediately and we have no information of injuries, having consulted local media on the issue.
The broadcast was cut short immediately. Extent of damage is not known, though by the looks of what was captured on TV it shouldn't be significant. The primary issue is that despite extensive security efforts militants were able to pose a threat.
On the other hand, the match itself is symbolic. For the first time since 2004 the stadium was actually used for an official football game, not for military purposes. During 2004-2007 it was abandoned, in 2007-2009 it served as military base for Ethiopian troops, then in 2009 it was captured by fundamentalists from Al Shabaab, only for them to flee from AMISOM forces in 2011.
Finally, the last AMISOM contingent left the area on August 28, 2018, and renovation of the stadium could begin. Heavily damaged, with no roof and destroyed facilities, the venue has now barely been restored to basic functionality, with aid from the EU and Norway.