Omar Zlitni holds a decades-old, black-and-white photograph of himself as a boxer in his prime, posing in shorts and a coaching vest earlier than Libya’s then-dictator, Moamer Kadhafi, banned his beloved sport.
Boxing was “in his blood”, stated the 63-year-old Tripoli resident who proudly retains the picture as his telephone’s wallpaper.
In 1979, he was simply 19 when boxing, together with wrestling and different fight sports activities, was banned by Kadhafi, who thought of such contests a menace to his persona cult.
“We have been an entire group. We have been going to struggle in Italy. After which, all of a sudden, they banned it. Why?” Zlitni instructed AFP, with anger clouding his often peaceable face.
“There have been friendships and love; boxing was all the things,” he stated, including he regretted their lifestyle had been taken away and that “everybody went his personal approach”.
Formally, authorities thought of the game too violent — regardless of Kadhafi’s regime being accused for greater than 40 years of atrocities together with terrorism, torture, massacres of civilians and focused assassinations.
Following Libya’s 2011 revolution, by which Kadhafi was ousted and killed, Zlitni reunited with former fighters and labored to revive boxing, re-establishing the nationwide federation by means of their “personal efforts”.
Since then, Libyan boxers have shone in varied competitions, modelling themselves after Malik Zinad, a lightweight heavyweight fighter who discovered success after leaving the nation for Europe.
‘Flying the flag’
Beneath a tin roof, in a Tripoli barn, younger fighters spar in a dusty outdated ring. They’re striving to be chosen to compete in African qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Olympic Video games.
Now a coach, Zlitni deplores the shortage of help from authorities, stating the rudimentary gear that he and different former boxers needed to pay for out of their “personal pockets”.
However the sight of so many younger folks freely practising the game and “waving the flag of Libya” brings him “pleasure”.
A crowd of spectators seated on plastic chairs shout at a boxer parrying blows from his opponent: “Block!”, “Come on!”, “Once more!”.
One specifically stands out among the many ringside crowd — Mountaha Touhami, one among few girls boxers within the conservative Muslim nation.
The self-declared “sports activities lover” stated she was inspired to get into the ring by her father, who had sought exile in the US due to the boxing ban.
“Among the many women of my technology, we didn’t know that others practised,” the 25-year-old stated, describing how she typically educated in secret with a punching bag.
“Even right here, persons are shocked to see a lady,” she stated, having come to the boxing gymnasium to help a buddy.
“However the truth of being a lady, youngster or grownup, doesn’t forestall you from taking part in sports activities”.
‘Perseverance and endurance’
Different fight sports activities have reappeared and emerged in Libya since 2011. For Omar Bouhwiyah, an ardent kickboxer and Thai boxer, their existence supplied the chance to develop new passions.
“These sports activities have allowed me to have extra self-confidence, to take away destructive power, have a way of duty and to socialize extra,” he stated.
A fan of motion movies, the 29-year-old stated he first got here throughout a Fb group devoted to kickboxing in his hometown of Benghazi in 2013.
Having gone on to win a number of competitions, together with regional titles, Bouhwiyah now trains in a contemporary gymnasium in Tripoli.
Wearing gloves and shorts in Libya’s colors, he delivers sturdy punches and kicks to a punching bag, whereas filming the scene for his 14,000 followers on Instagram.
He says there’s a hole between Libya and its neighbours in such sports activities, however believes “perseverance and endurance” has made it doable to “break down prejudices” held about Libyans.
Bouhwiyah goals of reaching the highest, even turning into a world champion.
“Nothing is not possible,” he stated.