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In Somalia, a new diversion from politics and violence over the airwaves: sports radio

In this photo taken, Thursday, June, 19, 2014, a Somali sports news presenter broadcasts news at Gool FM radio in Mogadishu, Somalia. For decades Somalia’s airwaves have been filled by radio stations broadcasting news of the country’s long-running violence or troubled clan politics. But now Somalis can listen to a dedicated sports radio station. Gool FM airs sports only, no politics. The station’s managers believe an increase in sports coverage can promote peace and boost economic opportunities in a country long in need of both. The station covers international sports, new local sports leagues and other sporting developments, like the opening of a new fitness center. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

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In this photo taken, Thursday, June, 19, 2014, a Somali sports news presenter broadcasts news at Gool FM radio in Mogadishu, Somalia. For decades Somalia’s airwaves have been filled by radio stations broadcasting news of the country’s long-running violence or troubled clan politics. But now Somalis can listen to a dedicated sports radio station. Gool FM airs sports only, no politics. The station’s managers believe an increase in sports coverage can promote peace and boost economic opportunities in a country long in need of both. The station covers international sports, new local sports leagues and other sporting developments, like the opening of a new fitness center. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

MOGADISHU, Somalia - For decades Somalia's airwaves have been filled by radio stations broadcasting news of the country's long-running violence or troubled clan politics. But now Somalis can listen to a dedicated sports radio station.

Gool FM airs sports only, no politics. The station's managers believe an increase in sports coverage can promote peace and boost economic opportunities in a country long in need of both.

The station covers international sports, new local sports leagues and other sporting developments, such as the opening of a new fitness centre.

Launched in 2012, Gool — which means goal in Somali — has increased attention on local soccer leagues by broadcasting some games live.

"We had to change the impression toward the local leagues first, because people got used to the international matches only," said Abdullahi Osman, the radio station's director.

Unlike other Mogadishu radio stations, where most visitors are politicians who come to studios to get their voices heard, Gool FM has a different atmosphere. On a recent weekday, dozens of young boys in skinny jeans and girls with badges in hand sat in the studio, waiting to participate in a sports quiz.

A correct match prediction earns $10, money that can make a good day for a young boy in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. The competitors also had to answer questions that were mainly about old soccer players.

Gool FM translates international matches into the Somali language to make the games more easily understandable for their audience. The radio station has an affiliated TV station and a popular website.

"They made following sports irresistible. It's a unique and helpful radio station," said Mohamed Hassan, a soccer fan in Mogadishu.

Demands for daily visits by listeners to the radio station are high, forcing management to register visitors. Inside the studio, phone lines ring constantly as callers try to participate in talk show segments or answer trivia questions.

"What you can see here is that people were not given a full-time opportunity and sports platform," said Abdalle Hassan Balil, an editor at the station. "Sports brings together people, whereas politics divides."

With 28 staff, including four women, the station is seeking a bigger footprint across Somalia.

It's all part of a movement away from Mogadishu's violence-filled past.

Gool FM is able to flourish because security forces ousted the militant Islamist group al-Shabab in 2011. The dismissal of the militants allowed new restaurants and sports leagues — and the radio station — to open.

Thousands of fans now pack stadiums each week to watch soccer and basketball leagues, a once-rare form of entertainment in a capital weary of war.

"Our reporters are always busy. We work hard to fulfil people's expectations," said editor Balil.

As the radio station gains in popularity, security officials say they believe that a population more active in various sports can help promote peace and give idle young men an activity to participate in or follow.

Hassan Ali, a senior police officer said: "The more sports get empowered, the less likely we are to see violence-loving youth."

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