A group of 17 top Libyan soccer figures have defected to the rebels, a publicity blow for Muammar Gaddafi in soccer-mad Libya, the BBC is reporting.
Dozens of Libyan army personnel have also defected in recent weeks, including 19 military officers who arrived in Tunisia on Thursday.
The Libyan soccer stars include the national team’s goalkeeper, Juma Gtat, along with three other national team members and the coach of Tripoli’s top club, the BBC says.
Gtat and Adel bin Issa, coach of Tripoli’s Al Ahly soccer club, reportedly announced their defected in the town of Jadu in western Libya’s rebel-held Nafusa Mountains.
"I am telling Colonel Gaddafi to leave us alone and allow us to create a free Libya," Gtat told the BBC.
Soccer is beloved by Libyans, but the country's national team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Libya is currently ranked 58th in the world.
On Friday, 51 rebels who had been freed from detention described torture at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces.
The rebels were returned to the city of Benghazi on a Red Cross ship.
“They electrocuted us, they tortured us in every possible way,’’ Yousef al-Fetori, who had been detained in Tripoli, told the Associated Press. “They broke my ribs, hand, and leg.’’