Opinion| by Anonymous, who is very Close to Ethiopian Football
Football also known as the “Beautiful game” is a deeply strategic game played with grace and finely tuned techniques.
It is a battle on and off the field that requires immense mental, physical and emotional strength. However, football is not just a sport it is a way of life, with the added value of fueling economic and social development.
Recognizing this, it is important to focus on cultivating and strengthening the development of the sport, by creating a conducive environment that nurtures and promotes competitive quality football. It is evident in nations with strong competitive leagues football has the capacity to generate direct, and indirect value to the economy, contributing to the overall GDP of the nation. With carefully crafted systems and structures in place, it is possible to harvest the economic and social benefits of the sport. However, beyond the socio- economic value football plays a significant role in transforming the lives of young people and their community.
Although Ethiopians are very well known for the success in athletics, most Ethiopians are obsessed with football. Yet, the lack of desired progress has not deterred the hunger for the sport, even with a weak league and national teams the love and passion for football is still overwhelming and still deeply rooted in the people, and this is evident as thousands continue to come out to support clubs, and the national teams.
Ethiopia is one of the Founding nations of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), in 1957 along with, Sudan, Egypt and South Africa. However, in a space of over 40 years the strength and presence of the founding nations was overtaken by supremacy of the North and West African Nations.
62 years ago, one-man Mr. Yidnekachew Tessema, 4th President of CAF, was a coach, teacher and leader that raised the profile of a countries football.
He did it all by himself – one man took a stand to transform the football and the benefits were reaped by the country and more importantly the continent.
So how did a leading and founding nation of football in Africa, years down the road, get left behind in history books?
Ethiopia has the human resource, for this sport, being a youthful country with approximately 70% of the population under the age of 30, of which 30% is between the ages of 15 -29, and 40% is under the age of 15.
Astonishingly each year there are approximately over 2 million young people transition from 14 to 15, now if this is not wealth in numbers from which talent can be harvested from then what is? But potential is something that needs to be harnessed into result, and this does not come by chance nor by doing the same things repeatedly, expecting change
*Central statistics Agency – 2012 Population Projection
Change requires identifying existing problems, then instilling carefully planned and designed programs and systems that will bring about the desired and intentional change.
Yet, Ethiopia still struggles to establish a solid national team both female and male at all age categories as well as a strong and competitive league and this continues to be a pertinent problem that seems to have not found a solution.
This is evident as the results attained from the competitions in all age groups may it be FIFA competition, Confederation competitions and league competitions have been poor.
As a nation there is a problem in developing a system that can sustainably draw from the wealth in numbers and create and maintain a strong, competitive 11 boys and girls for the U17, U19, U20 and main national team.
Why? In this pool of 30% how hard are we working to uncover or develop talent? What support system have we laid out? What structures and management do we have in place that will enable player development? How have we linked the sport to benefit our nation by linking Federation strategies to national policies?
Beyond the history, beyond the potential, as a country only bare minimum effort is placed to change the current situation.
Priority setting is still a major issue – what to invest on first and what kind of result to expect in which time frame remains a puzzle.
The Way Forward
Very little investment is going into quality grassroot projects and academies if any, nor on capacity building, systematic and regulated education (for coaches, management, physiotherapists, nutritionists, physical trainers and referees).
There is a lack of investments in infrastructure development especially for training/playing fields and camps, even though these are one-time major investments that improve the quality of the game and player performance.
However, more importantly in Ethiopia, very little investment is going into developing young players.
Investing in young talent is crucial to the success and sustainability of any sport and this applies to the football. In countries where the sport has developed for example scouting of talent is now as young as 10 and 11 years if not younger.
More impressively each year young talented players debut in high stake competitions. For example, a team like Ajax attributes its success to one of the youngest teams in the 2018/2019 Champions league competition reaching all the way to the Semifinals on the shoulders of a very young team, led by one of the youngest captain aged at only 19.
As this happens across the globe, here in Ethiopia only now are we recognizing the value in investing in young players particularly the younger players between the ages of 12- 15, both male and female.
Recognizing the need alone however will not bring the required change. There are many factors that have been hindering the investment in young players of which the most common one is financial reason. However, when one stops and thinks about the amount of investment that is currently going into the football, you can’t help, and wonder is it really the finance that is the problem or is it something else?
Talent identification is a science in its own, but before we get to that as a nation what groundwork or foundation have, we laid that will enable us to capture talent.
There are many ways in which talent is discovered, such as street games, school competitions, nationwide searches and so on. But even those are hard to do these days. A city like Addis Ababa, currently does not have many playing fields, most are being converted and sold to investors. Schools both public and private that once had massive sports fields are being torn down for buildings. Apartment and housing complexes convert areas marked for playing grounds into parking lots.
When it comes to the sport clubs, most of which are financed by the government, investments are geared towards the main male teams and more so into the transfer of mature and experienced players and as always developing talent is considered costly and unnecessary.
There are no strong systems in place that allow player development and progress in clubs and investment in the U15, U17 and U19 are almost none existent. So where can you find these young players? And how do you maintain the national teams if there is no proper system that feeds the flow and enables the replacement of quality players continually?
It is true initial investments could be huge, but the financial resource is there, problem is right now what is wanted is short cut results with temporary outcomes rather than long term planned sustainable outcomes.
This is not to point fingers. Responsibility starts at the individual. The problems have been identified, they are well understood, but it seems like there is no desire to care enough to change them.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting change… question is why is it that year after year the same thing is being done again and again expecting change? Why are the same questions being asked expecting a different answer when not much is being done on the ground to change the reality?
My heart breaks for a nation that loves and is passionate about football, a nation that dreams of seeing the nations flag raised in major competitions, a nation that is hungry to see competitive quality football.
More so it hurts to know that we have missed the opportunity to uncover talent in the millions in the past, that we are still currently losing talented players in the millions and we will continue to lose great players in the millions because we are not doing much to change the reality, to challenge ourselves to care enough and convert the huge potential, the gift in the numbers into the greatness that we all so desire to see.