The Libyan national soccer team has abandoned the green uniforms favored by Muammar Qaddafi in favor of jerseys sporting the rebels’ colors. The Guardian reports that the change has been made for the team’s African Cup of Nations qualifier against Mozambique today. While it may be a small, ceremonial change, it signifies a greater national shift. Members of the team were reported to have joined the rebels early in the summer, and now the entire squad will wear the black, red and green flag of the National Transitional Council.
Libya was slated to host the African Cup of Nations in 2013, but agreed to let South Africa hold the tournament due to the turbulent political climate after the fall of Qaddafi. The country will now host the event in 2017.
Soccer plays an important role not just for Libya, but also for the Qaddafi family. Al-Saadi al-Qaddafi, Muammar’s third son, was the head of the Libyan Soccer Federation. His reign was marked by an unbridled hatred for the Al-Ahly Benghazi soccer club after their fans booed him and his team, Al Ahl Tripoli, during a cup final. Saadi was enraged and was alleged to have rigged matches to send the club to the lower division. Fans of Al-Ahly Benghazi protested, but they were met by an unequally violent response from the government. Al Arabiya News reports that, “Scores of [Al-Ahly Benghazi’s] supporters were imprisoned, some of whom were sentenced to death for attempting to subvert the Qaddafis’ rule.” Their sentences were later converted to life imprisonment, but Saadi’s insane grip on Libyan soccer was blindingly clear.
After the Al-Ahly Benghazi incident, Saadi signed contracts at three clubs in Italy’s Serie A. It was rumored that wealthy Italian team owners signed Saadi in order to obtain lucrative Libyan oil contracts from his father. He failed a drug test after one match with Perugia and Al Arabiya says this “earned him the reputation of being Italian Series A’s worst ever player.”
As the Libyan squad prepares to kickoff at noon EST, they will finally be able to play the game without the weight of Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi on their backs. Instead, they will have an image of the rebel flag.