In what could be considered a new low in Ethiopian football, a couple of years back, for a decision taken by a referee in a match between Defense and Welwalo that sent shockwaves in the country, match official Eyasu Fanta was attacked by players and fans alike, for a footballing decision. What is worse, 11 other referees were assaulted.
Due to attacks on match officials becoming severe, the Ethiopian Referees Association decided to stop from officiating league matches for three consecutive game weeks, to prompt change in what was at that time a challenge to conduct sports.
Aggrieved by referees coupled with the delicate nature of the politics in the regions and political unrest in the country, has led fans into unwanted behavior across the country. In this regard, the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) has been forced to postpone plenty of fixtures. Furthermore, it was even considering terminating the league for a while. It can be recalled that due to the continuous unrest stemming from politics, and spilling onto the pitch, several clubs had announced to not travel to regions to hold their matches.
The Ethiopian Premier League (EPL), for years on end, has faced many challenges in growing, promoting and attracting a wider audience. It is to be recalled that particularly the 2017/18 and 18/19 EPL season was the seasons that saw mass hooliganism testing the patience of many.
Several meetings, awareness sessions and sport discipline issue trainings have been held by the EFF, fans associations and the Federal Sport Commission. These meetings were mainly focused on discussing the sources of sport discipline issues.
Turning a page, unlike past seasons, the 2019/20 season is going on the right track as the first round draws to a close in match week 15 fixtures. The current season kicked off on December with 16 clubs participating in the competition. A newly elected committee of seven will monitor the league.
This year, with fan associations involved more closely than ever, fans are more welcoming and understand how to better support their clubs, rather than resort to violence. In pre-season, the club fan associations worked tirelessly to bring peace to football arenas. In addition, the fans travelling to other regions have increased, especially in women supporters. It can be remembered that Ethiopia Coffee’s and St. George’s fan base were the only ones travelling to regional cities to stand by their teams.
Timotios Baye, an agent, believes the reason for the calm natured fans in this year, boils down to an understanding. “There are many factors for the current season going very well. The first is that the football community now understands how football hooliganism affects their team,” Timotios told The Reporter.
According to several researches presented in various meetings showed that the on pitch players played a crucial role in causing conflicts with referees triggering mass hooliganism.
Surafel Ashenafi, Hello Sport host in South FM 100.9 commented that the steps taken to curb the disciplinary issues are making players more receptive. “Including the pre-season discipline sessions, and the salary cap; the players are now becoming responsible for every match.”
So far so, every fixture is going smoothly except for some complaints on specific matches. The next round is expected to go as smoothly but many agree there are no competitive or consistent club and is still tough to get three points in away matches.