Libyan Indoor Soccer Player Dies In Malaria Outbreak In Team

CAIRO (AP) — A malaria outbreak among Libya’s national indoor soccer team has claimed the life of one player while several others have been sickened following the team’s participation in the African Minifootball Cup in Nigeria, Libya’s sports ministry and its minifootball federation said.

According to a statement by the ministry on Wednesday, Ayman al-Naqrish, 24, died in a hospital in Tunisia, where he was transferred after his condition deteriorated.

A medical official who accompanied the team to the tournament in Nigeria earlier this month said that 15 other players were infected, including five who remain in serious condition. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Libyan media have blamed the transitional government and the national futsal — as the sport is known in the Middle East — federation for allegedly failing to abide by health protocols and other medical precautions during the trip.

In response, Libyan Sports Minister Abdel-Shafei al-Jweify appointed a special commission to oversee the investigation into al-Naqrish’s death.

Futsal is a form of soccer played on a much smaller, hard court and mainly indoors. The African Minifootball Cup in Nigeria was due last year but was delayed over the coronavirus pandemic until this month. It was only the second time the tournament was held and nine teams participated, including the host. Egypt defeated Libya in the final game.

After the tournament, the Libyan futsal team returned from Nigeria via Egypt. The players were sickened once home. It was not immediately known if any Egyptian players or players on the other teams in the tournament were sickened.

Al-Naqrish’s body was brought home from Tunisia to Libya on Wednesday; he was buried in the western coastal city of Misrata. His death brought back the memory of Libyan soccer superstar, Ahmed al-Buseify, who died of malaria in 1989, following his participation in the World Cup qualifiers in Ivory Coast.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country was since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Oil-rich Libya is now ruled by a transitional government tasked with preparing the nation for elections in December.