Football Returns to Aleppo after Five Years of War

After years of war in the Syrian city of Aleppo, signs of stability have reappeared. The BBC reports, a football match between local rivals al-Ittihad and Hurriya took place on January 28. Al-Ittihad won the match 2-1. The game was the first official sporting function in the war-torn city in five years. The event followed the government’s complete capture of the city last month in a major offensive. Recent footage from the match shows drums beating, flags waving, and chants in the stands. Although the atmosphere of Saturday’s game was upbeat, there were hints of the division that plagued the city for half a decade. Several police in riot gear were dispersed throughout the sidelines of the stands. Other indications of war included a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad and political banners supporting the government.

Syria’s national football league, the Syria League, was suspended after the civil war erupted in 2011. A couple of months ago, only two major cities held games; recently, however, the league resumed matches in Aleppo, Homs, and Hama. These cities have been deemed safe by the Syria League, due to their relative stability and lack of skirmishes. This “safe” rating shows the return to civilian life that has taken place in many areas of the nation.

When asked about his emotions surrounding the match, al-Ittihad defender Omar Hamidi states, “I can’t tell you how it feels to return to the pitch (in Aleppo) after five years… My heart’s beating so fast.”