Mohamed Ashour Khawaja, photographed after winning gold in the African Championships in Nairobi in 2010
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London are fast approaching and after passing through some hectic moments during the past year and with the country still trying to find its feet in many sectors, including sports, Libyan enthusiasts of this international event, regarded as the World's Greatest Sporting Event are still keen to join the sporting fraternity the world over to follow the 16 days of the show from July 27 to August 12.
Libya has never been known for its prowess in such a great show. It has been participating in the great show since 1964, that is, two years after the creation of the National Olympic Committee, and a year after the NOC was recognised by the International Olympic committee as the governing body of the sport in Libya.
Libya and has been sending athletes to compete in most Summer Olympic Games since that event that was organised by the Japanese city of Tokyo. However, along with most other African nations it boycotted the 1976 Games, and repeated the boycott in the 1984 Games.
Libya has never won an Olympic medal and ranks near the bottom in sports competition with other Mediterranean countries that had far fewer resources, including neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
One of the main reasons for this lapse, in an oil-rich country that had all the resources at its disposal to push any sport forward must be that most athletes and sports programmes in Libya were woefully neglected during the four decades of Gaddafi's four-decade rule.
Many will point to Gaddafi's treatise in his Green Book, that, “Sport, as a social activity, must be for the masses. It is mere stupidity to leave its benefits to certain individuals and teams who monopolise them while the masses provide the facilities and pay the expenses for the establishment of public sports.”
The new rulers of Libya, among them the head of the national Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a former footballer, are expected to give the dignity and the facilities to those practising sport, and in fact recognise its importance for youths and also the men in the street and even heavily.
Nabil Al-Alem, the president of Libya's Olympic Committee has been reported saying that “sport was not a priority for Gaddafi. Now we are very optimistic.”
Libya has never won any medals at the Games and perhaps it would be hard to envisage it could break the 'rule' in this year's Games in London. However, it is well nigh certain that Libya's tricolour flag will once again be flying in London, and Libyans want and need to hope that one of its athletes could eventually make it to one of the steps on the medals podium.
Three years ago, Libya was agog with the performances of some of its athletes in the 2009 Mediterranean Games in Pescara, Italy, particularly sprinter Mohamed Ashour Khawaja, now 24, who won gold in the 400 metres, while six more won bronze medals. The athlete also won gold in the 2010 17th African Championship in Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.
The conflict last year in Libya, and lack of funding seems to have halted Khawaja's progress. He was deprived of the chance to participate of last year's World Championships in South Korea. No wonder he was bitter about the former regime whom he has accused of “trying to kill sports”.
Libya's 'golden boy' Khawaja finds a lot of support from other athletes when he says that “there was nothing called sports in the days of Gaddafi. They had a committee to fight stars, not to let them shine.”
Mohamed Khawaja has a personal best for the 400 metres of 44.98 seconds at the African Championships, which is well within the 45.25 qualifying threshold for London. He hopes he could qualify for the London Games and feels that “nothing is impossible.”
He voices every Libyan sportsmen's wish that Libya's new leaders will be different than the former dictatorial regime, and that they need to start making the changes as quickly as possible as Libyan athletes have a lot to catch up.
Khawaja, one of Libya’s hopefuls, who was doing so well was deprived of competing in international events during the conflict and it most certainly hindered his preparation.
One sincerely hopes that Khawaja's efforts to qualify for London are successful. The same wish goes to the others, some of whom found training facilities in Libya lacking and have even gone out of the country to train in order to stand a chance of competing.
Those who tried to improve themselves by training abroad include a half-marathon runner in Morocco, three judo athletes in Algeria, a taekwondo competitor in the US and a 50m freestyle swimmer in South Africa.
One hopes that the efforts and sacrifices by these Libyan athletes will bear fruit, particularly by managing to participate in the forthcoming Olympic Games.