He was born in Addis Ababa in 1935. His father was a fan of the St. George FC, and he used to go to schools to pick up players and take them to the stadium. So, he was always having time with his father. Later on, he got a job as a physical education teacher. After a while, he became the first Ethiopian sports journalist in 1957. He was the one who started broadcasting on sports from different stadiums. He also started sports programs on Radio Ethiopia. He used to write articles on sports in all newspapers, and since no one was interested in sports, he was pushing newspaper editors to run articles on sports. Then he wrote a book on Olympic Games in 1960. He was sent to the United Nations Mission in the Congo. Later on, he resigned from his position in the Ministry of Information and joined the United Nations. When he came back home, he started to help the Ethiopian Sports Federation, and served as secretary general of the Ethiopian Cycling Federation, public relations officer of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF), and Secretary General of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee (EOC), Tennis Federation, and Football League. Before he left the country, he helped with organizing the African Cup of Nations in 1968 and 1976. CAF delegate of the Ethiopian Football Federation Fikru Kidane discussed with Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter the 39th CAF general assembly and issues related to Ethiopian football. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Can you tell me a little something about your journalism career abroad?
Fikru Kidane: Well, after leaving Ethiopia, I went to Paris and I worked for French newspapers France Football and L’Équipe. Then I started my own newspaper, Continental Sport, a bi-lingual (English and French) monthly magazine. I was also editor-in-chief of Olympic Review, a publication of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). That was my journalism career. But, I have also worked for the BBC, VOA, DW and Radio France International and others. From time to time, I like to write and comment on sport. What’s more, I have covered Olympic games, football and world athletics championships for the last 14 to 15 years. I can say that I have covered all the major events and issues in world sport.
You have been serving as a CAF delegate for more than ten years. How was your time with CAF?
I was in CAF as delegate of the Ethiopian Football Federation or as a commissioner because of the late Yedenkachew Tesema. And later, I became advisor to the president. I was helping promote African football. I am also involved with many international organizations as a volunteer.
How did you find the 39th CAF General Assembly?
Well, there were outside forces like Egypt, Morocco and FIFA. Most African countries didn’t support the current FIFA president, Gianni Infantino. So, he made a tour of Africa during the campaign. When they were here in Addis, African delegates were staying at the Hilton. Most of them were corrupted. Africa is known for corruption. Whenever there is an election, if they get paid, they vote for you. But, what I really dislike is to be a tool for outside forces. Even the Egyptians were against CAF because they argued that the marketing agency was charging too much for TV rights. Because the right was sold for a Qatari company without a bidding process, and I think they were not thrilled with that. Egypt, Morocco as well as FIFA took issues with the way TV rights were awarded. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian Football Federation was in the other group promoting its own interests. Ethiopia always took a position favored by the majority of African countries.
Do you think it was a fair election?
It was not really democratic. I mean, with corruption you can be elected. Look, have you ever heard of Madagascar football, Liberia, Djibouti and Sierra Leone? So, you cannot count on decisions made at the political arena. At African Union meetings, agreements are reached to uniformly cast votes in support of a particular candidate. However, at the actual election, half of Africa decides to vote the other way. So, you cannot control anyone. They will tell you that they have voted for you, but the reality is otherwise.
What was the main reason that Africa has only one candidate?
The problem is they don’t nurture the young generation. There are too many old people who are still around. So, we don’t have a lot of choice. All the leaders who were elected here are not good at all.
How do you compare former CAF President Issa Hayatou to the newly minted Ahmad Ahmad?
The former president specialized in physical education. He worked in the Ministry of Sport. He was secretarial general and president of the football federation of Cameron. He helped the Cameroonian national team to not only represent Africa at a World Cup but also become champions at the African Cup of Nations. He had a lot of experience and the he is the man who took over from Yedenkachew Tesema. He always defended the interest of Africa.
The newly elected president used to be president of the Madagascar football federation. They just picked him up. He was elected as a result of a campaign launched by others.
What is your comment over complaints that ex-CAF President Issa Hayatou could serve another term?
There is a double standard. Why is something totally acceptable in Europe but not in Africa? For example, take the case of Sepp Blatter; when he was last elected, he was 79.
How do you evaluate the performance of CAF? What do you think of the current status of Ethiopian sport federations?
Well, there are a lot of improvements. During the time when Yedenekachew Tessema was around, there was no money. Now TV rights generate revenue. Both FIFA and CAF are well-funded entities, even though they give money to national federations. So, it is better now when it comes to financial issues. And also they finance a lot of projects like referee courses, coaching courses and so on. If you want to promote football in Ethiopia, you need to train coaches who can read in different languages online. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia we don’t have that many book shops. But, different associations, like football and athletics, they should build libraries where people can go and read. So, we need more qualified people to promote sport. Some of the federations are run by less qualified people. It’s different with athletics, where there are people at the management who know much about athletics. But, in the other federations there is a shortage of experts.
And we can’t develop sport without qualified people.
The late Ethiopian Yedenekachew Tessema was at the helm of CAF for almost 15 years and his contribution was prodigious. Can you tell me something about his legacy?
He was my mentor and I learned a lot from him. He was a very intelligent person and he was the father of Ethiopian sport as well as that of Africa. He was helping African sports organizations.
Tell us about the status of football comparing your time to the current one?
During my time most of the players were from secondary school. Like Mengestu Worku, Anwar, Fisseha; all of them were from secondary school. Even players for military clubs like the air and police forces were from schools. They were endowed with great skill. But now, the sport in school is not as it used to be, and there are not enough spaces to practice sport. Now, children play on the street. So, we cannot say that sport is developing in Ethiopia without having the necessary infrastructure.
What could be the solution to that?
We have to develop school sport. Now, in most places there are a lot of students and they don’t have spaces to play. They build class-rooms on fields that used to be sport arenas. So, they must have football ground, and also for other sports as well. Sports authorities involved in management, they don’t even have the requisite knowledge about the sport. They have to plead with municipal authorities to allocate space for sport. How can you develop sport without having a place to play it?
Can you say something about the status of Ethiopian football and what needs to be done?
The first thing is to bring people who know well about the football. Then you have to organize youth competitions — U-15, U-17 and U-20. There is no factory to go and buy players. We have to nurture young players. And also we need to have school competitions. We have to prepare the youth.
So what’s your next move? Anything you want to add?
I’m now over 80 years old. I am currently working on two books, which I hope will be published soon. I always think about the status of Ethiopian as well as African sports. We are far behind when it comes to, say, facility, technology, finance and so on. So, everybody should contribute their level best to develop football. There are only three competent clubs in the Ethiopian league. The fans insult each other. This is not part of Ethiopian culture. We need treat each other respectfully.