Opinion| “Keeping Calm” a missing word in Ethiopia’s Football dictionary

By – Dawit Tsehaye

Much has been said about the fatal breakdown of Ethiopia’s football in the last half a century but still, there is a sense of anxiety among everyone about where our current exigent bold moves would lead to.

Ethiopian Football has been in adrift on a sea without a paddle for years. To date, without a doubt, no road map has been in place to move our seemingly lost in the unknown football back on track. We have been obsessed with silly things getting rid of the bigger picture. Everybody is in a rush the football management, Clubs, Players, Coaches, and Media, so that feeling of a more control in emotions and the room for clear communication has been lost ever since and that egomaniac nonsense has totally controlled our footballing communication playing a part to our vicious footballing circle.

With that being said the only positive issue in the past decade or so after the start of the new Ethiopian millennium would definitely be the rise of municipality football clubs at every province of the country. This development led to an immense publicity of football in the country known to be one of the founding members of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) , made many youngsters dream of becoming a footballer and an ever-growing number of stadium goers has seen a remarkable increase over the past decade. Ten years ago that was not the case, behind empty seated venues were most top-flight clashes held but now poorly competitive contests would attract large spectator audiences and a stadium filled to rafters is becoming a normal issue for most. But yet that fertile ground has not been properly managed and become an alarming issue that needs to be addressed.

Apart from that those issues listed to be the chronic problems for Ethiopia’s Football years ago has not be addressed like Poor governance, lack of grass root development, poorly competitive football league, marketing revenue… with the only latest addition of spectator violence are still being raised now. So, how could we revert that and create a conducive environment where every stakeholder would play a part in the positive steps towards reverting the downfall of our Football ?

Much has been said and little has been done to overcome them but nothing has changed since, so what’s the problem then?

I think a dozen of problems might be listed but my focal points on this piece would be lack of inclusiveness and short-termism (Exigency) among footballing stakeholders mainly club officials and the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF). In my opinion, these issues are the ones we should get rid quickly, since this mindset would directly be related to poor governance and incompetent football administration personnel (short term planning) among other things.

I would like to mention some recent incidents to make my statement about the issues obstructing our football.

“Case One”- December 11 2018

The 2018/19 season Ethiopia U-20 review and draw for the new season was held at the Ethiopia hotel, 9 am in the morning was thought to be the onset of the gathering but due to some delays, the meeting began around 10 am.

In a meeting planned to last half a day most clubs were represented by their executives, until midday mostly the meeting was covered by the so-called “Season review” distinct to other nations technical, tactical and other aspects of a complete season review were not presented, our version of season review is merely emphasized on sporting conducts, overall season results, top-scoring chart, and benefit of the competition, with the lunchtime fast approaching most representatives were in a rush when it comes to the crucial part of the meeting.

At this stage, the most significant issues regarding the format and other preconditions which would have a long-lasting effect on the overall performance of the nation’s football were approved unanimously by frustrated club officials who were in exigency to settle the meeting and move away.

The format amendment to a tournament to be held in a group of two was raised by one participant and all of a sudden most clubs seem to agree and were set to be in place, without any tangible justification not only that but also with out considering the way the grouping shall be done. Most notably with the geographical location of clubs being scattered here and there, they were grouped into the two groups without contemplation.

For instance Ethiopia Medhin based in Addis grouped in to Group “B” would travel to Gonder (656km), Assela (164.6km), Halaba (215.4km), Meanwhile Ethiopia Bunna also based in Addis groped in to Group “A” would travel to Diredawa (453km), Wolaita (311km), Sidama (278km), Ambo (108km), Assela (164.6km)

Considering the reality that clubs customarily using inland transport, in line with U-20 players are likely to be attending their secondary education so with that tournament in place how would they cope with that?

So before this format was set to be introduced clubs and the EFF should at least think twice and come up with alternative ideas about how to carry out the tournament in a manner considering the geographic locations, education and so.

“Case Two”- August 09 2019

The meeting held on August the 9th jointly organized by the FDRE Sports Commission and Ethiopia Football Federation (EFF) about the ever-growing cash influx that’s hindering clubs to sustain their existence.

At the beginning the invitation letter was “The FDRE Sports commission and EFF have set an appointment on August 9 2019 to discuss salary cap with Stakeholders” but what exactly happened there was a complete jumble.

First and foremost the meeting was hypothetical to entertain thoughts with stakeholders about ways to regulate that in the forthcoming but as the clock ticks away that rushing mentality was also activated as participants swift to fix the salary cap when it comes into force and other sensitive issues within few minutes with hand vote. To your surprise, the 50,000 ETB monthly maximum salaries were raised impulsively from club representatives without any rationalization demonstrated on the meeting but were set to in place with hand vote.

If the meeting was supposed to fix the salary caps, it shall be inclusive of those stakeholders like representatives from the players and coaches association, only Welwalo A/U head coach Yohannes Sahle, the president of the newly formed Ethiopian Professional Footballers Association/EPFA/ was in attendance at the meeting on behalf of the dozen Ethiopian football players.

Inclusiveness and rushing mindset were still the problem here, there was no necessity to swift and put in place the salary cap, I totally agree with clubs concern over the issue but it is a very sensitive issue and shall be addressed in a manner where each stakeholder has a say and the impacts of the decisions should be assessed before coming in to force.

“Case 3”- September 11 2019

The latest EFF plot to upsurge the contestants of the Ethiopian premier league to 24 sides has been a one-sided affair.

With elite Ethiopian premier league sides based in Addis Ababa alluring to pull out themselves from the Ethiopian premier league after “lack of trust” in the newly elected EFF executive committee as its core agenda with ploy like security concern and argument that the current league format is uneconomically being raised in disguise to revert the attention. The Addis Ababa Football Federation /AAFF/ have expressed their dissatisfaction in how things were treated in Ethiopia Medhin’s not making to the Premier League after spending a great season in Ethiopia’s higher league Group “B” finishing just a single point behind group champions Wolkite Ketema, and also the alleged “unsporting conduct” behind Mekelakeya’s relegation has ignited a rift between EFF and AAFF.

The AAFF has been thoroughly monitoring the circumstances and has been conducting studies about the drawbacks of the present Ethiopian premier league format and proposed an alternate league format of regional championship was in contention by their proposal.

Instead of confronting the issue straight forward the EFF management tempted to calm things by introducing a new 24 contestant’s league, where both Ethiopia Medhin and Mekelakeya were set to back in the premier league and also making a bold move towards the incorporation of a new league share company.

The move for 24 teams is an indication for the exigent move with no dealings with stakeholders was on display as the EFF made the tough decision a few months prior to the new season.

Many issues could be raised in the sustenance of the above argument but I think those 3 cases are more than enough to make the testament, so are those moves made by the rushing mindset worth taking? Where the impacts assessed?

I would say taking time for a decision with a healthier consequence is by far better than those layman decisions approved blindly in rush so before a verdict is passed it beyond essential for stakeholders to have their say and after that, they should all be working together for its enforcement.

So if our football was supposed to move forward visionary leadership is needed badly, first and foremost we should understand the current status of our football and try to adopt new ways of doing things then trying to improve on that, that’s the only way to move forward.