In Women’s Basketball, Woodbury Coach Sees Hope For Somalia

While playing professional basketball in Somalia in the 1980s, Fartun Osman and her teammates wore tight shorts and no hair covering. “Nobody was judging us because we had a government that was stable and protecting us,” she told the Pioneer Press.Osman, now 40 and living in Woodbury, returned to her home country in December to coach in a tournament that signaled the defiant rebirth of Somali women’s basketball decades after its civil war began.

Amid death threats from Al-Shabaab terrorists and denunciations from moderate clerics, teenage girls and young women in long pants and hijabs played under the protection of armed soldiers on rooftops. “Every time we stepped on the court, it was scary for us,” said Osman, a youth sports coach and physical education teacher at the St. Paul charter school Higher Ground Academy. The tournament featured four players each from Minnesota and Canada alongside players from several regions of Somalia. Somalia’s best and four players from the diaspora then were selected for a larger stage in March.

For the first time in 26 years, Somalia was sending a team to an international tournament in hopes of qualifying for the 2018 Women’s Basketball World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. The Somali comeback, however, never got off the ground. Osman, a team organizer and four North American players  including Osman’s daughter, Hindi Abdi  arrived without delay for the games in Cairo, Egypt. But eight teammates and the head coach never completed the trip. They got stuck at the airport in Dubai for three days and then flew back to Somalia.

Osman was willing to suit up to fill out the starting lineup but was told she’d need more than five to play. After raising money for the trip and receiving no pay, Osman and her team were forced to forfeit, settling for some scrimmages before returning home.”It was really sad,” she said. “After you do all that, they can’t play. It’s hard for us.” Osman thinks the airport problems were related to President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the U.S. from Somalia and five other Muslim-majority nations.

Source The News & Observer