World football’s governing body Fifa has kept its views on the security situation in Libya as closely guarded as codes to a nuclear bomb‚ leaving it decidedly unclear when the North African country might have a ban on hosting international matches lifted.
The tenuous security situation in Libya has meant that for almost a decade now no matches under the auspices of Fifa or the Confederation of African Football have been hosted in the oil-rich North African country.
Instead, Libya’s national team, and its club sides competing in the annual African club competitions‚ have been forced to host their home games at neutral venues‚ mostly in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia but also occasionally in Mali and Morocco.
For SA this will be a persistent question over the next four months before Bafana Bafana travel to face Libya in March for the last of their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
SA need to avoid defeat in that game to book a place at the finals in Cameroon — after failing to beat Nigeria in their penultimate Group E qualifier at Soccer City on Saturday — and would obviously prefer a neutral venue rather than having to play in Libya.
The question of just when Libya can expect to have the ban lifted has been repeatedly asked of Fifa but without any definitive reply. Libyan officials have been suggesting for years that the lifting of the ban is just months away‚ but the practicalities seem a lot more complex.
It is known that Fifa has made several fact-finding trips to the country in recent years to see whether the ban can be lifted but Libya’s inability to get its own league up and running counts against it.
Libya is effectively a divided country‚ controlled by various tribal factions since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with the central government having no control over large parts of the land.
The capital, Tripoli, is frequently the scene of gun fights between armed groups, with the UN support mission in Libya reporting regular civilian deaths as a result of attacks and crossfire.
Libya’s league has played infrequently over the past eight years with the start of seasons often postponed. The latest campaign was due to get under way last weekend.