Fencing is making a comeback in Libya, after it was banned along with other sports deemed as violent, such as boxing and wrestling, during ousted leader Muammer Qaddafi’s reign.
The Libyan Fencing Federation has been working on reviving the ancient sword sport since its establishment in November 2010.
The formation of the federation occurred after the African Olympic Federation told the Libyan Olympic Committee to lift the ban in order to host the African Olympic Games in 2017.
Training came to a standstill for 3 months from when the February 2011 uprising began.
Nabil Elalem, executive head of Libya’s National Olympic Committee, said athletes and officials had to deal with state interference, corruption, and travel restrictions and enduring underfunding.
The former chief of the Olympic body was one of Qaddafi’s sons, Mohammed, who later escaped to Algeria when Libya was seized by rebels.
“All sports were monopolized by Qaddafi and his sons. Also, this sport was never a popular sport in Libya and therefore it didn’t get any attention from officials in the past,” said fencer Mohammed Faraj.
The fencers still face issues despite being given funding from the Olympic committee to develop the sport.
“We hope things will improve further. We finally got a training hall where the national team players are training now. We hope we will be able to get more equipment, as we are working with poor facilities, we are trying to make do with what we have,” Adel al-Zaitoni, Head of the Libyan Fencing Federation told Reuters.
The Federation faces the challenge of starting from scratch and has contracted an Egyptian coach to supervise 15 senior competitors and more than 20 junior competitors.
“We have categories for young players, and we hope that our brothers who supervise school sports activities will nurture (this sport amongst) young boys and girls because fencing game should start at an early age, around 8 to 10 years old,” al-Zaitoni said.
Libyan athletes are now more optimistic that the National Transitional Council will dedicate more effort to improving the country’s sporting sector.
The fencing team has already won a bronze medal in the 2011 Arab Olympic Games in Qatar.
Libya aims to send nine athletes to this summer’s Olympics in London and eventually host the Africa Cup of Nations and Pan Arab Games.