Leaving it all on the court

Somalia, Women's Basketbal, Jan Grarup, Dan Eldon

Armed guards protect women as they play basketbal in Mogadishu, Somalia

Photojournalist Dan Eldon spent the last months of his life in Somalia, photographing the war-torn country with a gentle touch and a powerful perspective. In 1993, as Eldon and several of his colleagues were covering a botched military raid in Mogadishu that left 74 civilians dead and 100 more injured, he and two others were stoned to death by an angry mob who perceived the journalists as the perpetrators of the raid. Dan was twenty-two years old.

Dan left behind his journals and photographs, but more importantly he left behind a legacy. Each time he pointed his camera, he aimed to shed truth on the injustices plaguing Somalia and other war-torn countries. Even as mental and physical exhaustion overcame his young body and mind, he continued his commitment to bring light to these otherwise ignored conflicts.

Twenty years later another talented photojournalist continues where Dan left off. Jan Grarup – born two years before Eldon, has been covering global conflicts since 1991. On Friday, Grarup was awarded the prestigious first prize in the Sports Features category of the 56th World Press Photo Contest.

His work brings attention to the Somalian women’s basketball association. Each time these women lace up and step onto the court, they risk their lives. Al-Shabaab – a military group connected to Al-Qaeda which controls much of Somalia – has repeatedly threatened to kill the women if they continue to play. The group considers women playing sports as a disregard to their Islamic heritage. Despite the constant threats, the women continue to play. Their determination in the face of death is a testament not only to their love of the game, but to their tenacity in the midst of injustice. It’s clear, they’re playing for more than a game.

In the United States many of us take women’s basketball for granted, a socially accepted second-rate NBA. It’s sobering to realize how misconstrued this perception is, especially given the circumstances of the women in Somalia and others like them around the world. Love of the game transcends gender, color, or creed. When it comes down to it, all that really matters is that the court is flat, the ball  is round, and the rim is in the air. We could all stand to learn a thing or two from these brave women – I know I certainly can.

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(Photo credits: Jan Grarup)

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