Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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“ethio-telecom will regret neglecting the chance to be title sponsors of the EPL”

 Lieutenant Fikade Mamo

Born around the old airport area, Lieutenant Fikade Mamo started his primary education at the Beyene Merihed School. He spent his time playing football with his friends at the Black Lion Hospital’s sandy field. However, he did not have the opportunity to play at a club level. Nevertheless, his passion about football never waned. After joining Haile Selassie I University in 1968, he graduated with a degree in Management and Accounting. He then began his studies in flight school, but in 1975, when the Derg regime came to power, he dropped out.

In 1978, he became the General Manager of the Ethiopian Coffee Market Corporation, serving for 15 years. The corporation had a football team called “Yenegat Kokeb.” He served the club until it was renamed Ethiopian Coffee Football Club. Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter spoke to Lieutenant Fikade Mamo, the Ethiopia Coffee Football Club and Ethiopia Premier League Share Company chairman, to discuss football. Excerpts:

The Reporter: When Derg came to power in 1975, various clubs were renamed. What was the main reason to change the name of clubs and how was the structure of the competition?

Fekade Mamo: After the arrival of Derg, it dismantled existing clubs and reorganized them until 1983. It first separated the groups and organized them into industries. The industry at the time was called the All Ethiopian Workers’ Union.

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It then organized the clubs in each of the factories into first, second, and third divisions. The names of the clubs were also renamed to fit with the revolutionary sentiment then; therefore, their names became “Tiglachin and Eremijachin.” 

In 1983, however, they saw that this was not the right way to run football, and agreed to take the example of Algerian football at the time. It was proposed that it will open an opportunity for a public servant to become a soccer player at the same time. 51 clubs in government agencies were registered.

At that time, Ethiopia Coffee was registered as “Buna Gebeya” under the Ethiopia Coffee Market Corporation. 

Since Derg came to power, you have been working in various fields. At the time, you were called “Yilewet Hawariya” (Agent of Change) and led various institutions. How did the name come to be? What was the main function of the Agent of Change?

The name came after the Derg came to power. As cadres of the ruling party, we were called “Yilewet Hawariya”. Then it was our duty to be assigned to each office and to accept the requests of the people. As an advocate for change, I worked for the National Bank for more than four years.

How do you see the leadership in Ethiopia Coffee Football Club since the EPL was established in 1998?

Since its establishment, the participation of Coffee Sports Club in the League has been continuous. The competition is held every year and clubs are getting stronger day after day. However, it was a tough time for Ethiopian coffee.

The reason is that since the EPRDF came to power in 1991, the Ethiopian Coffee Corporation collapsed and it was privatized. Previously, we had no financial problems.

After being privatized, the company had barely any resources to buy coffee and the government quit supporting us. As a result, the club got weakened to a point where it nearly could not survive anymore. However, it managed to survive with the help of individuals, fans as well as the private sector.

The club survived the scary episode after coffee exporters agreed to pay 5 birr per ton from the coffee they export. This financial support was miniscule in comparison with others clubs as the latter were supported by the government without any problem.

For instance, government supported clubs such as Ethiopian Insurance and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia had a huge amount of money. But, due to the year on year increase in the amount of money spent by clubs, Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, insurance and the rental house clubs were unable to continue in the league. And, privately owned clubs such as Construction building did not manage to survive following the closure of the organizations.

You told us about the failure of private and government-sponsored clubs there. Can we say that financial strength is the only option to succeed in the league?

Over time, many clubs, including Commercial Bank’s, have collapsed. Nevertheless, not all of them are financially ruined. Some clubs have enough money and others have commitments. For instance, when Ethiopia Coffee faced a financial crisis, it only had commitments rather than money. And the committee was determined to keep the club afloat. Then various sponsors began to sponsor Ethiopia Coffee with the likes of BMW car importers; Meta Beer and Dashen Beer partnering the club. 

Football is one of the most-watched sports events in the world and is well-known in the advertising industry. In contrast, our country is lagging behind. What do you think is the reason?

Sponsorship deals have been around for decades. But when it comes to our country, the awareness is very low. As a result, many clubs were unable to continue due to a lack of sponsorship awareness. In Ethiopia, the process of sponsorship and advertising is still in its early stages.

Can we say it is still unchanged?

Either way, it has a long way to go. The EPL has been named by foreign companies. For example, ethio- telecom had the chance to be the title sponsor for the EPL. It could do it three times over. But the company ignored the chance to interconnect with the customer, to increase its profits. Following the expected introduction of foreign companies into the telecom market next year, there will be times when foreign winners will enter the sport directly and ethio telecom will regret it.

The EPL has faced various problems regarding finances and structure. What were the basic problems of the league and clubs?   

The basic problem is the overall economy of the country. For example, in the days of the Emperor, football was managed by the private sector. The clubs in Eritrea and Dire Dawa were private. The government did not provide financial support. But, after Derg came to power, it was suggested that the clubs be run by the government to address the youth. To that effect, many clubs are still managed by the government now. 

In this regard, the government sets up a club, naming it after a sub-city or city administration and hires players and coaches, without a specific goal or structure.

When we started the Premier League, 16 clubs were registered as part of the Share Company. However, when the clubs registered, they did not have any proper structure and were unable to meet the basic requirements. I can say that only two clubs met the requirements. So, it was a challenge for us to register them as shareholders. In addition to financial problems, many clubs do not even have an office, auditors, and consultants. As a result, we are in serious trouble.

It has been two years since the EPL share Company was established. What does it plan to do next?

We acknowledge that this (the problem of structure) was a common problem. To solve the problem, we issued a bid for a consultant and determined the winner. The advisor would not only be involved in the Premier League but also in the lower leagues.  

So, our consultant will investigate participating clubs on whether they have offices, management, accounting department and whether audits are carried out properly.  In addition, every club must have at least U23, U17, U15, and a women’s soccer team to continue with the Share Company. Secondly, an independent auditor should be able to identify costs and profits and have the manpower.

So from now on, we will have to make a registration requirement. Accordingly, clubs must be properly established.

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