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Referees cry foul
Ethiopian Referees Association(ERA) members in general assembly and referee Eyasu Fanta hit by team leader in Addis Ababa stadium

Referees cry foul

In an unprecedented turn of events that shook the Ethiopian footballing realm, it has been revealed to The Reporter that 11 referees have been assaulted by players and fans to date including the latest battering of Eyasu Fanta, a referee who officiated the match between Defense FC and Welwalo Adigrat University FC. Because of this, match officials have been severely injured.

It is to be recalled that in game week 17 of the Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) held between Woldia City and Fasil City in Wolidia stadium; match referee Lemmi Niguse and assistant referee Mustefa Meki were severely injured by football hooligans.

Another incident took place in a higher league game between Butajira Town and Ethio- Cement that saw referee Yonas Markos assaulted. This was not the only case in point, in a higher league match in Arsi Negelle, referee Dereje Wagari and Epherem Debele were ruthlessly beaten and are currently receiving medical treatments.

It is not only the beating of referees; in a higher league games held in towns of Butajira, Werabe and Durame; ongoing matches were canceled due to fans outrageous behaviors during the games.

Following the repetitive football hooliganism, the Ethiopian Referees Association (ERA) called a general assembly on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 that was held at the Ethiopian Youth Academy. 

International referee Eyasu Fanta was also a victim of the brutal beating during match week 22 in Addis Ababa stadium last Monday between Defense and Welwalo Adigrat University. Welwalo’s football team leader went on to assault Eyasu followed by others repeating the same act. The association is considering taking the case to court against the team leader who carried out the act.

Eyasu, in his part, highlighting the seriousness of the condition, said, “We came to officiate sport games but it turns out to be politics and vice versa.”  He also added that referees are subjected to offensive words uttered by football players on the field.   

According to international referee Lemmi Neguse, referees are being forced by club managers to not abide by FIFA laws mainly in regional state matches.

“Club managers are also responsible for pushing fans to have bad feelings towards referees which aggravate the hate and brutality against referees by football spectators,” he elaborated.

He also blamed the security forces in regional matches who are responsible to safeguarding the flow of the match for their non-collaborative manners and their negligence.

The ERA decided to refrain from officiating EPL matches for the upcoming three consecutive game weeks.

On Wednesday, May 02, 2018, the association was summoned for an emergency council meeting to discuss the behaviors of football fans and players across the country. The association urged the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) to safeguard and protect the well-being of referees from such victimization.

The association came up with eight preconditions to be granted by the federation in order for the referees to get back to officiating EPL matches once again.

The meeting was held in the presence of representatives from eight regional states, two city administrations, federal and international referees.

Referees from regional towns mainly spoke of their grievances and stressed that they have been affected badly by what is going on.

Referees that took part in the association’s emergency council meeting asserted that sufficient security forces are not assigned during regional matches and there is also an issue of bias and discriminatory trends.

They have also said that even though the federation decided to penalize football clubs and players, it has become obvious that the penalty initially passed finally got minimized or cancelled. Hence, they believe that the discipline committee operates unprofessionally.

In connection to the hooliganism, it has been indicated that there is also a referee that is in serious condition after undergoing brain surgery.

Among the eight pre-conditions forwarded by the association, grant for referees’ life insurance, medical treatment for referees when necessary up to medical attention in foreign land, unbiased and non-partisan security forces presence in stadiums and the appeal committee’s proper operation were on the list.

Additionally, they have also demanded for referees to get compensations for the injuries they have suffered.

Officials of the federation, who were present during the meeting, agreed that the offence on referees was unacceptable and inappropriate. However, the federation’s president Junedin Basha believes that deciding not to officiate games will not be part of the solution.  Leulseged Begashaw, Ethiopian referees committee chair stated that sport hooliganism and outrageous behavior by sport fans should be put to calm first.

The meeting hosted all regional states and city administrations except Ethio-Somali Regional State. Amhara Regional State remains to be the only state that has opposed the decisions and preconditions passed by the association.

The federation called for a meeting among the 16 EPL clubs on May 03, 2018, putting the league on hold for one week to discuss the matters. However, many football clubs have not commended the move. Hawassa City and Adama City football clubs said they supported the move by the association but they believe that the three-game week suspension is not the right decision.

Ethiopian Coffee FC board chair, Fikade Mamo (Lt.), believes the same. He called on the association to revise its decision of refraining to officiate games for three weeks or they might be forced to bring referees from abroad. It was also indicated that as most football clubs are financed by city administrations and end of the budget year approaching; this will only further complicate matters.

ERA, however insisted that it will maintain its decision, while the football federation said it will discuss these matters with security forces and concerned bodies. It is also today that the football federation will hold its presidential election in the presence of council members.