men in the arena

Men in the arena wants to tell the story of two Somali National Football Team friends chasing their dreams in the face of impossible odds. To understand, however, just how vital the story is, you must be acquainted with how difficult it is to play soccer in Somalia right now.

Mogadishu Stadium, Somalia’s largest sports complex, is still a base for the African Union troops that are fighting back the terrorist group al-Shabaab. Meanwhile, al-Shabab still attacks at will with one of those attacks being responsible for the death of the heads of Somalia’s soccer federation and the Olympic committee in 2012.

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These tense situations combined with the low and inconsistent pay that soccer players earn in the country has severally led to many of these athletes seeking greener pastures outside Somalia.

Although the nation is embarking on a recovery that has seen renovations of mini-stadiums and neighborhood playgrounds, the progress is slow. Men in the arena is a documentary that seeks to depict a bit of this reality and hopes to be a part of this progress.

J.R. Biersmith, the film’s director, and co-producer told Quartz;

“We made this film to humanize a people and a place that has been through an unimaginable quarter century of challenges”

The documentary focuses on the life of two rivals who turn friends when they are both recruited for the under-18 Somali National Team. They carry their country’s hope on their shoulders, even as they chase their professional dreams of playing outside Somalia.

Sa’ad and Saadiq are the friends in question and we get to follow them as they flee al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, only to encounter a myriad of other challenges outside like facing ethnic profiling and police harassment in Kenya.

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The story is shot and produced in Kenya, Somalia, and the United States. The website of Men in the Arena still features a spot for donations, according to the page;

“We embarked on this journey three years ago to humanize a people and a place long viewed through a single story of fear. Sa’ad and Saadiq’s journey is a powerful testament to the power of hard work and hope.”

The director told Quartz that the story is especially needed now considering President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban citizens and refugees from seven countries—including Somalia—from coming into the US. He says;

“Both of them came to this country believing that the fear they’ve lived with all of their lives would dissipate but the travel bans and other anti-immigrant rhetoric brings it all back.”

He is hoping that with the documentary some of this will change as the narrow lens of fear is widened by men in the arena.