Persons with both physical and intellectual disability participate in different sports activities. But most of the sports played by the disabled are adaptations from existing able-bodied sports, modified to meet the needs of persons with a disability, which is sometimes referred to as adapted sports. According to various references, there are 25 active deaf football clubs in Great Britain most of which compete in mainstream football leagues around Britain under international criteria which requires deaf players to have an average hearing loss of 55 decibels more in the best. Senay Football Club for the people with hearing impairment was established in 2017 by few caring individuals to become the first football club in Ethiopia for the disabled. Endaleyesus Abate has been instrumental in the establishment of the club and he plays great roles to keep the club afloat. Endaleyesus is the general manager of Senay in which he also serves as a member of the board of directors. He was also the manager of the Addis Ababa FC before establishing Senay. Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter sat down with Endaleeyesus to talk about the establishment of the club and the current status of the club. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Tell us about the Senay Football Club. How did it come into existence?
Endaleyesus Abate: The deaf community in Ethiopia is very disadvantaged in many basic service provisions such as in schools, recreational areas, and sports. There hasn’t been any registered deaf football club until this year. Senay Football Club was established for people who have hearing impairment to mainly give them a chance to play football. It gives a change for youth who are passionate about football but did not get the chance because of their disabilities. The main drive behind the establishment of Senay Football Club was the moment when a man with hearing impairment came to my office and asked me to help him and his friends with some football equipment. After giving them some balls, kits and other necessary equipment, I set an appointment to visit their training ground. Then, I went to their training ground on a Saturday early in the morning. I found out that their performance was great and promising. Since then, I have been working with them for the past four years.
What legal and administrative measures are you taking to formalize the club and receive recognition?
Since its establishment, the club has carried out several promising activities in terms of legalizing the team, creating the platforms and building international relationships with similar clubs in other countries. In terms of formalizing it, we have five board member of the club including club president.
So far, the club has been succeeding in carrying out various friendly matches with local and international clubs of a similar establishment. Regarding international friendly matches, we played against the Canadian Athletics in Action Football Club and the South Korean Hallelujah Football Club (third division football in Korea). St. George and Ethiopian Coffee have been instrumental in participating in friendly matches representing local leagues.
Obviously, that the rule of the game between players hearing with disability and normal once is not the same. What do your players feel about their roles and what have you observed so far?
Through all this time, we have learnt that disabled people can do anything if they are given the chance to. We have proved that people with hearing impairment are capable of playing football without hearing a sound on the pitch. Imagine playing a friendly match against able players U17 clubs of St. George, Ethiopia Coffee and foreign clubs as well. They are very happy and committed what they are doing. They are open-minded about taking everything you give to them and they are very hopeful. So, I am pretty sure that they can make a change in the near future.
What is the main objective of Senay Football Club?
Well, our objective is to create a barrier-free platform where the deaf community can get equal opportunity to play in the country football ball clubs and to represent their country in continental and international competitions. We want to be a leading body of football in Ethiopia to create a system to organize and facilitate sporting events within and outside the country. Through all this, we also need to strengthen our relations with the government and similar foreign organizations and donors to enhance the participation of deaf people at all level.
How can passionate but hearing-impaired players join Senay football club? What are your requirements?
In fact, there are no any requirements to join our team. But, it is preferable if they fall U17 and U20 divisions. After recognizing their interest, we discuss with their families about our program and relating issues. We do so along with one the board members which is directly responsible for family issues. We have a two days a week after-class training session. So, things are running up like this so far.
Your team was one of the participants in school football tournament which was held last month. How did you find the tournament?
The football tournament was hosted by Lycee Guebre Mariam to celebrate the school’s 70th anniversary. The participants were from five international high schools namely the British International School, Future Talent, One Planet, Lycee Guebre Mariam and Senay Deaf Football Club. We were invitees in the tournament. Then we reached the final match against Lycee Guebre Mariam’s football team. It was historical competition between deaf and hearing football teams in Ethiopia; the match ended in a 2 -2 draw. Following the result, Lycee Guebre Mariam won the tournament with seven points and three goals variance while we sat second with the same point. It was a great opportunity for us to even take part in the competition and it helped us to see our potential.
You have been invited to play by a French deaf football club called Montpellier. How did you get a chance?
Well, the Montpellier club is one of the deaf football clubs in France based in the city of Montpellier. Montpellier deaf football team was founded in 1938 and it will be celebrating its 8oth anniversary which will be held from May 18 to 20, 2018. There are 20 deaf football clubs in France. Hence, I told them about Senay mentioning that it is a newly founded deaf football club in Ethiopia and it’s a great opportunity for us if we get a chance to share experience in the Montpellier’s anniversary football tournament. After the conversation, they confirmed for us to take part in the competition by our own financing. In order to participate in this golden opportunity, we are trying to get sponsors to will cover our expenses for the tournament.
What are the main challenges your team faced so far?
To be honest, there are a lot of challenges which hinder us from achieving our maximum potential. The first thing is the materials for players like boot, kit, and expense of food after training which helps the players to be physically fit. Actually, there are various individuals who are supporting us in materials such as, Josamb kit provider and a Canadian Right Play NGO. Apart from this, the Canadian Right Play has promised to support us with additional materials in the near future.
Generally, let me give you the opportunity to say something on the deaf football?
I really want to say that disabled people can do anything and we have to encourage, motivate and help them to achieve the maximum of their potential. We are now the icebreaker via football and there are so many talented players across the country. Now, Dire Dawa and Adama cities are following in our footsteps to establish deaf football clubs. So, everybody should give attention to disabled members of the community in order to create equal opportunity for them like any other person.