It was at the end of the 19th century that handball games were organized in northern Europe. According to various sources, men’s handball was first organized in an outdoor setting at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin. A popular sport in the Europe, the game also enjoys popularity in Africa. The International Handball Federation (IHF) was formed in 1946 and as of 2016, it has 197 federation members. Ethiopia became a member in 1972. Meanwhile, in a regular general assembly in 2015, Fiteh Woldesenbet has been elected as president of the Ethiopian Handball Federation (EHF) to serve for four years. Nowadays, Ethiopian handball Premier League competitions are underway and two clubs have joined the African Handball club championships scheduled to take place in Cairo. Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter sat down with Feteh to talk about the Ethiopian handball and the current status of the federation. Excerpts:
The Reporter: The Ethiopian Handball Premier League (EHP) has commenced. How did you start it?
Fiteh Woldesenbet: We started the Ethiopian Primer League in 2017-18 after holding discussions with the general assembly. We have agreed to increase the number of clubs from three to five and managed to include regionals states. We had tournaments in Dire Dawa, Alamata, Hawassa and Addis Ababa. Federal Police, Defense and Federal Prison were the first clubs to tour in regional competitions. After we campaigned for more clubs to come to the tournament, we now have 14 clubs. We have eleven clubs participating and start the premier league this season.
The handball premier league is a new tournament and what have you done to create awareness?
We have managed to recruit 14 clubs from regional states. Out of the 14, eleven clubs will participate in the tournament. It was only three clubs that were seniors. Through this time, we have trained these new clubs on club management, competition rules and regulations. We have also trained them on the importance of creating financial capability by themselves.
What were the challenges or gaps during the tournament?
As the competition was the first of its kind and different challenges were observed, professional players and referees lacked patience and were not professional enough. We faced shortage of finance and due to this one of the participant clubs couldn’t take part in the competition until the end. We do not have enough professional experts to lead the games properly.
Besides increasing handball clubs in the premier league, what was the other objective of your campaign?
During our campaign in different regions, we primarily focused on increasing premier league clubs. Alongside increasing the number of clubs, we had also planned to create awareness and revive handball sport in the public. Though it was popular a while back, handball stayed dormant for some years. Now what we are doing is reviving the sport in Ethiopia. Handball is a popular sport all over the country and is an Olympic sport. So, to come up with a good result in the international competition, it will be a basic necessity to create awareness of the sport across the country.
It has been announced that two Ethiopian handball clubs will take part in the African Handball Championships in Cairo. Tell us about it?
The tournament is scheduled to take place from April 13-22 in Cairo, Egypt. So far, we were not able to participate in such tournaments. But, after we showed an impressive result in zonal competitions, we got the chance to take part with two clubs. Kinbat and Kirkos sub city are the ones selected to compete in the championship. These clubs were selected based on their current performance in the Ethiopian Handball Premier League. So, this means a lot for us i.e. getting the experience by taking part in international competitions.
Ethiopian Handball Federation has been hosting various African zonal tournaments in Addis. How do you evaluate the results and is there any plan to host tournaments here?
We have been hosting various African handball tournaments in different age categories. We had also an opportunity to take part in several African championships. We had promising results. We are in the top list from East African countries. Through all this, we have learnt that we are fully capable of hosting any tournament in Ethiopia. Based on this, we are requesting to organize the subsequent African Handball Club Championships in Addis Ababa. So, we are preparing to host a big championship.
Handball is one of the Olympic sports and Ethiopian handball team has not been able to take part in the Olympics. What would be the next homework?
Obviously, Ethiopia has been participating in specific sport events at the Olympics. There are a number of Olympic sports which are widely practiced during the summer and winter Olympics. In Ethiopia, over 22 sport federations are active having regular schedules. But, these federations are challenged due to financial problems. Hence, such challenge needs to be cleared out and the Ethiopia Olympic Committee (EOC) should be helpful. EOC has the power to strength its finance by getting sponsorship deals in order to help Olympic sport activities. Furthermore, it is necessary to invite owners to such sport activities. Finally, hosting different tournaments will give us the chance to generate income and help develop Olympic sports.
What is your comment on handball sport projects which are managed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports?
Over 70 handball projects are managed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports across the country. Their activities are directly overlooked by the Ethiopian Handball Federation. But, they are not managed by the Federation. So, it would be nice if the governing body resolves this confusion.