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Sports in Libya

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Traditional sports, such as horse racing and (in Germa) camel racing, still take place. The Gaddafi regime forbade certain sports for political reasons. Gaddafi banned boxing in 1979, saying it was too aggressive. He ordered the arrest of Mahmoud Abu Shukawa, the African heavyweight champion that year, and the secret police smashed his fists with a hammer. Cyclists were banned from using the velodrome built by King Idris in Tripoli, and the traffic-choked streets were no place for cyclists.

The difficulties faced by cyclists were reflected in their performance at the Olympic Games. Libyan participation began in 1964 and continued in 1968. During the Gaddafi period, Libyan teams participated in 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008, usually in cycling, running events, athletics (track and field), weightlifting, and judo. Libya never won a medal during this time.

In general, professional sport was forbidden on the grounds that it was elitist. The exception was football. Tripoli is home to two of the most prominent football clubs, al-Ahly Tripoli and al-Ittihad Tripoli. The national team regularly took part in international tournaments from 1953 onwards, but their international performance was not outstanding in either the royal or Gaddafi periods. The Libyan team has never qualified for the World Cup, although in 1986 they nearly reached the finals. The team did poorly in the 2002 World Cup, when the captain was al-Saadi Gaddafi, the dictator’s son.

After the revolution of 2011, the fortunes of the Libyan team improved. The national team’s first match after the Battle of Tripoli was on 3 September 2011, against Mozambique, as a qualifier for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations: Libya won 1–0. The match was relocated to Egypt and played behind closed doors for security reasons.

Other sports have also found their feet since the 2011 revolution. Mahmoud Abu Shukawa, now 61 years old, opened a boxing club in Tripoli, and cycling returned to the Velodrome.

Libya sent five athletes to the 2012 Olympic Games in four sports: athletics, judo, swimming, and weightlifting. The only woman athlete was one of the swimmers. Libya won no medals.

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