For many years in Libya spectator sports were outlawed. In a strange exercise of logic, Gaddafi felt professional sportsmen stole the benefits of physical exercise from their fans, labelling sporting clubs ‘rapacious social instruments, not unlike the dictatorial political instruments which monopolise power to the exclusion of the people’. Fans were ‘a multitude of fools… practising lethargy’. Football clubs were only allowed after Gaddafi’s son, Saadi, personally requested his father relax these restrictions. Since then, Saadi has gone on to become a long-serving member of the Libyan national team, although, his abilities have often been questioned. National Libyan team coach, Franco Scoglio, who was eventually dismissed for putting Saadi on the bench once too often, remarked of him, ‘as a footballer he’s useless. With him in the squad we were losing. When he left, we won’. Similarly, it’s claimed that during his career with Libyan team, al-Ittihad, the opposition would turn and run away rather than tackle Gaddafi’s son. However, Gaddafi junior went on to play for several prestigious Serie A clubs in Italy, signing for Perugia in 2003, to Udinese in 2005-06 and to Sampdoria in 2006-07. In all, he took to the field twice during his entire Italian career, and rumours circulated that Italian clubs were keen to profit from Libyan sponsorship. Indeed, Italian football has certainly profited from the Gaddafi connection. In 2002, at Saadi’s prompting, his father bought a £14 million stake in Juventus.
In the Pakistani city of Lahore, the stadium which hosts international cricket matches is named after Colonel Gaddafi, in gratitude for the aid he sent to West Pakistan in its 1971 civil war with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Gaddafi’s firmly entrenched place in the popular culture of cricket-obsessed South Asia suggests the extent of his involvement in the continent.
Seeking Gaddafi by Daniel Kawczynski is available from 8th February 2010