Disappointing AFCON qualifier
One of the highlight events of the 2016/17 football season in Ethiopia is the 2017 African Cup of Nations’ qualification match up and Ethiopia’s campaign to secure a place in 31st edition of AFCON scheduled to take place in Gabon in January 2017. The Ethiopian national team, aka the Walias, was pinned against African football powerhouse Algeria, Lesotho and Seychelles in Group J.
Ethiopia ended it somehow disappointing qualification rounds last week beating Seychelles 2 goals to one in the newly built Hawassa Stadium. All in all, the Walias played six games and finished the group matchup with 11 points coming second to the group leaders Algeria. The result was not enough to guarantee a place at the AFCON 2017 finals and the overall performance of the team was an utter disappointment for Ethiopian football fans.
By all measures, the grouping was anticipated to work in favor of the Walias helping them to clinch an easy qualification spot as “best second” team. It was speculated that the Walias will qualify easily due to the nationsit is grouped with. One of the most defining moments of the qualification rounds for the Walias was the fateful match with the Algerian national team in Blida, Algeria. Algerian superstars like Riyad Mahrez took the Waliasapart completely.The end result was a humiliating defeat of 7 goals to 1 to the Ethiopian national team at the Blida Stadium.
The return match was one of those occasions where the Walias were seen in their rare best form and managed to tie it all in a 3-3 draw playing one of the best teams in the continent. In the return match, the Walias took the lead three times only to see the Algerains come back from behind and equalize. Finally, a late penalty by FaouziGhoulam secured a point for Algeria.This game followed the Walias until the end of the qualification rounds. The resultant three goals deficit weighed down on the team and hurt its chances to qualify as “best second”. Togo and Benin made it through to the finals each having 11 points, equal to Ethiopia, but managing positive goal deference.Apart from that, the humiliating defeat instigated the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF)to sackYohannes Sahale, head coach of the Ethiopian National Team, and appoint Geberemedin Haile, former national football hero and coach of the premier league side Defense FC., ona five month contract which will end on September 19, 2016.
Elsewhere, the 2016 African Women Cup of Nations qualification rounds was also another highlight of the football world in Ethiopia. The African Women Cup of Nations is one of the few football tournaments which hare gaining wider attendance in the content in recent years.The Ethiopian Women National Team, the Lucies, and its qualification campaign was another sad ordeal for the football community in Ethiopia in the just ending Ethiopian fiscal year. According to reports at the times, the Lucies were told that they will not take part in the qualification rounds because of an error committed by the EFF while registering the team for the tournament.
In spite of repeated email alerts sent by CAF to EFF, the federation failed to send its notice of participation on time to the organizers of the tournament. This resulted in huge public uproar against the football governing body. Nevertheless, the Lucies did not stay out of the cup qualification altogether. Later on, the fateful decision of the Togolese women national team due to financial problem that the federation has encountered, the EFF and the Lucies were afforded second chance to rejoin the qualification rounds.
But, luck was on the side of the Lucies.The Lucies, which were matched against Algeria in the qualifying group stages, lost 2-1 to Algeria in aggregate and saw their dreams of playing in the cup finals crushed. A total of eight teams qualified to play in the final tournament, including Cameron who qualified automatically as hosts.
The disappointing Rio Olympics
Although athletics and especially the Olympic games is where Ethiopia make a name for itself in an international sporting event, the road to Rio was bumpy starting from the preparation period. The wave of controversy started to engulf the Olympic village from the time when the team had officially got together to begin its preparation. Better yet, the selection of athletes who will be representing the nation at the Rio Olympics was every bit controversial. The controversies which arose between elite athletes and the Ethiopia Athletics Federation (EAF) regarding the selection of athletes which will be going to Rio were the first of many problems to be experienced by the Olympics campaign. Following the selection, on Tuesday, 14 June 2015, some 80-100 athletes led by double Olympic gold medalist, Haile Gebrselassie, Olympic marathon gold medalist, Gezahegn Abera and IAAF World Cross Country Championship winner Gebregziabher Gebremariam, protested against the national federation at Addis Ababa Stadium, accusing the EAF of poor management.
Kenenisa Bekele, who was omitted from the marathon team for Rio, accused the federation of unfair and biased athlete selection. He said that the federation recruited athletes based on individuals’ interests. On the other hand, the shadow of doping, an international athletics problem, was weighting down on the Ethiopian athletes who were preparing to depart for Rio. In fact, the depth of the doping scandal and the implication of that to some of the most know and celebrated Ethiopian athletes was beyond imagination. The EAF announced on Thursday July 14, 2016 that it has banned two Ethiopian athletes for four years from any athletics competition after their test results proved positive for use of Norandrosterone and 19-Noradrostenedione. This news was strange for Ethiopian athletics.
Meanwhile, even after the announcement of the final athletic team who would make up Rio-Ethiopian team, the athletic quarters were not completely free from controversy. Especially, the training session of some of the long – and middle-distance runners were evidently unusual. Team work in long distance running, one of the values of the Ethiopian athletics teams in the past, was put to test soon after,where reports of athletes preferring individual training programs started to emerge. The history of Ethiopian long-distance running and athletes was one that is embroidered with high team spirit and camaraderie. In fact, the Olympic team members set sail to Rio on the hills of old athletics legends with history of the “Green flood” and high-level of efficient teamwork. However, this was nowhere to be seen in the current team and in its preparation for the Olympics.
The competition started off nicely for Ethiopia with Almaz Ayana wining gold and setting the world record in the women’s 10,000-meter discipline. Finishing in 29 minutes and 17.45 seconds, Almaz became an instant hero not only for Ethiopians but for the rest of athletics community around the world. In addition to winning the first gold medal for an African team in the 2016 Summer Olympics, Almaz defeated the previous record, in place for the last 23 years, by a remarkable 14.46 seconds.
With the exception of one gold won by Almaz, Ethiopia’s Rio team came back to Addis Ababa with two Silver and five Bronze medals displaying one of the poorest performances in recent years. The gang of young male athletes in both 5000 and 10,000 meters was successfully dismantled by the sensational Mo Farah, who took two gold medals for two consecutive Olympic Games. To make matters worse, Ethiopia’s arch-rival Kenya has one of its successful Olympic games in a very long time take home five gold medals and ranking first in the continent. Ethiopian Athletes Interim Committee has urged the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) to call an urgent meeting and look into the problems facing the athletics sector. Regarding this, the Committee, made up of veterans and elite athletes and coaches, blamed the Federation for Ethiopia’s poor result at the 31st Rio Olympics.
The Robel phenomenon
Robel Habte, a 24 year-old swimmer, was undoubtedly one of phenomena during the Rio Olympic Games. He was mocked for his performance in the first heat of the Men’s 100 meters freestyle in Rio. His painfully slow race earned him the time “the whale” endless mocking on social media. He was also big headline for the international media outlets due to his unfit body structure and poor performance. For instance, the Daily Mail report said: “The portly furniture shop owner, who was making his first appearance at the Olympics, finished half a lap behind his two rivals in the 100 meters freestyle heats.”
By the time he had emerged for air from his opening dive off the blocks in the 100 meters freestyle heats, he was already at a body length behind and it did not get any better. The only one of the 59 entrants in the heats not to complete the distance in under a minute, Robel touched the wall with a time 17 seconds slower than Australian pacesetter Kyle Chalmers who clocked 47.90 seconds.
Meanwhile, his selection process to the Rio summer Olympic also sparked controversies especially among the local media outlets. After the return of the Olympic team to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian swimming Federation called a press conference and tried to explain how Robel was selected to go to Rio. Nevertheless, local media outlets were enraged by the statements of the federation and the explanation given to inclusion of Robel. Finally, the Ministry Youth and Sports also said that it will no longer allocate fund to the federation citing the sheer disregard to procedure in the conduct of its affairs at the federation.
In general, the sport seasons in 2015/16 also saw various controversies and conflicts. Program mismanagement and referee decision had been hot topics in the Ethliopian Premier League (EPL), the National League and Higher Leagues.