The Sporting Legacy of Clan Gadhafi

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/03/2011 05:48:00 PM
[How's that? It's been too long since I've had a weekend feature, so here's one that's macabre yet fascinating in equal measure--and it's not solely about money. A weird tale in three parts.]

(I) Sporting venues the world over hold pride of place in the national firmament. Not only do they often reflect a country's achievements in competition, but also its idea of nationhood. Some we are familiar with through hosting marquee events over the years and whose location is never in doubt: Madison Square Garden, Wembley Stadium, Stade de France, and the Tokyo Dome among others.

However, it's perhaps a reflection of cricket's relative obscurity outside of the Commonwealth that Pakistan's hallowed ground for the sport is little known to the rest of the world--trivia buffs like yours truly aside. It's called--you guessed it--Gadhafi Stadium and happened to host the 1996 Cricket world Cup. A few weeks ago, the UK Foreign Minister William Hague embarrassed the FCO by suggesting that Lider Maximo Moammar Gadhafi was en route to Venezuela, even earning the opprobrium of Venezuela's diplomatic corps. Yet what is there to suggest that Pakistan--duplicitous erstwhile American ally--is an unlikely place for him to literally pitch his tent? The Indian Express had a story recently on how it came to be named after a man known for his brutality long before his (short-lived) international rehabilitation. Let's say it has something to do with Moammar supporting Pakistan's nuclear arms programme:
The Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore is Pakistan’s Lord’s or Eden Gardens, no less. It is one of the best-equipped cricket grounds in the world, a symbol of national pride, which hosted the 1996 World Cup final. But this being Pakistan, it follows, as if as a rule, that this national structure too be blemished somehow. And it has got enough infamy to its credit in recent years...

It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the prime minister, who embarked on the policy of looking west to the Arab world for bonding and the obvious financial benefits that would accrue to Pakistan by being a player in the petrodollar economy of the Arab states, even if they were run by despotic autocrats. In 1974, Bhutto hosted the heads of Muslim states in Lahore for the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit, which included such adversaries as the reigning sheikhs of the oil-rich Gulf and Arab revolutionaries like Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat. The occasion was chosen to elicit support for Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as India was all set to go nuclear, and Gaddafi fitted the bill. In a grand ceremony at the Lahore Stadium, Bhutto announced the renaming of the cricket ground after the man whom he came to call one of his best friends.

Only Bhutto could have got away with feting and feasting such pro- and anti-US leaders as the Gulf sheikhs and the Shah of Iran on the one hand, and the Syrian, the Libyan and Palestinian leaders on the other, at the same table. At the Lahore summit, there were no walkouts by Gaddafi or other revolutionaries from the proceedings, as was and has been the norm at OIC summits held before and after 1974.

Lahoris cherished the grand mela that was being held in their city and broke into spontaneous dance at the sight of a visiting dignitary’s convoy. It was in such spirited bonhomie that they lost their stadium to the man called Gaddafi, although they have a long history of resisting any change of names, be it the city roads, neighbourhoods or landmarks.
In the rest of the article, let's just say Gahdafi stands accused of fomenting subversive activities in Pakistan--why oh why does trouble always have to be there--after the coup overthrowing Bhutto pere.

(II) We've heard a lot about Moammar's progeny in recent days for obvious reasons. First came the LSE PhD Saif, the "Arab Michael Corleone." There's also "Khamis Does America" of Khamis Brigade infamy (home from being feted across the US, he's now busy stamping out ill-equipped rebels). But wait, there's also Saadi Gadhafi, whose sporting achievements are slight but are definitely ones to remember for trivia buffs. John Foot of UCL offers this indictment of money in sports and Italian football in particular:
It is perhaps for this reason that Saadi Qaddafi thought that he might be able to play in Serie A, despite not being good enough. The strategy was simple — pay teams to have him in their squad, and train with the first team. He might even get a few minutes on the field, on rare occasions... Having served his ban [for using performance-enhancing drugs], Saadi finally saw some action, for 15 minutes, in a key relegation game against Juventus in May as Perugia won, 1-0. A week later an attack of appendicitis conveniently put him out for the rest of the season

In 2006, Saadi Qaddafi had his second 11 minutes of fame, turning out for Udinese in a dead end-of-season match against Cagliari (again the manager was Cosmi) and coming close to scoring with a “great left-foot shot from the edge of the area” His statistics for the entire season consisted of eight passes, one shot and two tackles.

Qaddafi’s final season in Italy was an inglorious one. He was on Sampdoria’s books for a whole season, but was not even allowed the regulation 10 minutes on the field. All in all it is an extraordinary story. It tells us a lot about the corruption of Italian soccer, the power of (Libyan) money and the occasionally the farcical nature of Serie A in the age of Moggi and others.
(III) OK, so Saadi was never going to be a soccer hero--not even good enough for a lousy Nike commercial methinks. Allegations of current misadventures aside, perhaps his prowess was ever-so-marginally greater in the boardroom. As you probably know, Western powers recently froze foreign assets of entities linked to the Libyan government, including those of the Libyan Foreign Investment Authority (LAFICO). Partly due to Saadi's interests, LAFICO held some 7.5% of the shares in the troubled giant of Italian football prior to the freeze. What's more, Saadi used to be on Juventus' board of directors as befitting the owners of a fairly substantial share. However, he resigned this post in 2003. You've heard of player/coaches in sport, right? Saadi did them all one better by being a player/owner of sorts:
Al-Saadi Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has resigned from the board of Juventus, the Serie A club said on Wednesday. Al-Saadi Gaddafi had represented Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico), which holds a 7.5 per cent stake in the Italian champions, since October last year. Gaddafi’s passion for soccer is well known. As player/owner of Libyan first division side Al-Ittihad the striker scored 25 goals in the last two seasons and in June he signed a two-year contract for Serie A side Perugia.

In a statement on its website, Juventus said Gaddafi had presented his resignation to the board “with immediate effect”. A source familiar with the situation said Gaddafi’s resignation from the board would not trigger changes in the club’s share holders structure, adding that the move could be linked to his transfer to Perugia.
As you'd expect, the reasons for Saadi giving up a seat on Juventus' board all those years ago remain obscure. Indeed, mystery surrounds the involvement of clan Gadhafi in sport. Yet, from still having Pakistan's hallowed cricket ground named after them to owning part of one of the world's ten most valuable football teams, their puzzling legacy lives on.

And yes, the stadium is long overdue for renaming. I just hope it won't be as bad as George W. Avenue.