30 November 2017

Ethiopia: Football in Ethiopia - Conspiracy Off the Pitch Spoiling Performance On the Pitch


I still got a vivid memory of my first time at a football stadium with my cousin. I was seven and happened to watch a final Addis Ababa City Higher Division match between the two top teams at the time. It was just an extraordinary experience; the pitch, the people, the passion and the heavy rain that continuously fell throughout the game but did not affect the passion the packed crowed had for the game nor the players on the pitch. Everything gave me sense but I left the stadium with great disappointment as the team I supported lost the game. It was a painful yet beautiful memory for a seven year old. I just loved the game.

Of course, I first came to love football by watching European and World Cup matches through television. But watching football live in person at a stadium was just different. And I still feel that firsthand experience has an impact on me. The surprising thing is that I did not end up being a fan of both clubs that I first had an encounter with.

And it took me two years to go back to the Stadium again. This time it was my day. The team that remained in my heart till this day won the Ethiopian Championship for the first time in very long time. And it was the fans that created the most beautiful feeling for me. It was a strange feeling that I share something in common with strangers. The unity and the harmony were just more than imaginable. For the first time in my life I became part of something meaningful, a crowd that stand for a common cause. And the following years, I was always there supporting my team with my favorite fans.

Through times, as I got older and life gets tougher, my passion for the game diminishes. And now, it has reached an all time low. But I still watch football from time to time. At times I list to the news or analysis and watch international matches. And the main reason for me to stop attending premier league matches is not that the standard of Ethiopian football is poor but the boring and meaningless conspiracy in the football administration.

The ongoing presidential election process to lead the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) and the conspiracy that comes with it has attracted the attention of the media and forced me to follow the process unwillingly.

A couple of years ago, the country was suspended from international football for two years by FIFA because of the mess in the federation. Then followed festivity. The national team managed to qualify for African Cup of Nations for the first time in 31 years in 2013. This flickered hope that the time has come for the renaissance of Ethiopian football. But, football is not only about what happens on the pitch. It is a process and a gradual progress that has to be managed carefully from the top. If there is no good management that facilitates a planned development, football could not take a step forward. It just could not develop.

The football administration is full of people who do not have love for the game. There is always power struggle and conspiracy in the federation and at club administrations. Every four year, when there is election for the presidency or executive committee membership, there is a fight between individuals to occupy the positions. The sad thing is once they grab the position, they do not seem to exert meaningful effort to develop the game from grass root level. They do not invest on youth development. They do not put in place a system to make sure that the youth receive the appropriate skills needed.

Football is a long term investment. It is the investment one makes on kids, infrastructure and the likes that at the end of the day makes victories at higher level. Sadly, the leadership of Ethiopian football always worries about the short term gains. Age fraud and the use of false documentation are common in Ethiopian football. One executive committee member of the federation recently revealed that out of the 2010 youth players who received Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (an imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body and help to determine the exact age of youth players), some1400 failed.

This should have been the major issue of debate. But seem to be preoccupied with the presidency and executive committee membership. All most all sports journalists in the country have been criticizing the election process, claiming that the process is not free and fair and is not following FIFA's electoral code standard.

There are interest groups in the federation that compete among themselves. As a result, the federation's 10th General Assembly which was held recently was full of conspiracy. Members of the Assembly spent their time quarrelling amongst each other and did not come up with ideas that change the game.

From time to time, the national team is 151st in FIFA's World ranking and there is no hope that it would qualify and participate in major international competitions. Despite the poor result, the majority of the executive committee members that served for the last four years, including the president and the vice president do not want to go easily. There is conspiracy to block the path for potential candidates. The process seems, some observe, more of a representation than an election. Because, there is limits to the number of candidates states send (both for the presidency and executive committee membership) despite the fact that there is no rule that claims so.

"Out of the five presidential candidates, three are coming back for the post again. This and other related situations bring up a series of eligibility questions about the majority of the candidates from different bodies," writes Haileegziabher Adhanom, a sports writer.

In a recent letter, FIFA has advised EFF to postpone the scheduled presidential election, because of some irregularities which the federation accepted.

"Considering the whole conspiracy theory given by the candidates and the executives, throughout the heightened pre-election campaigns, there is an intense need among ordinary citizens to ask, what is it in EFF? Why is there so much turmoil?" asks Haileegziabher.

At the end, they do not seem to think about football, its development or the nation. They do not have plan or idea to change the game. Perhaps, they do not care and it does not matter for them.


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