Monday, November 30, 2009

Cecafa Cup '09: Ethiopia to play first soccer game since Fifa ban

When Ethiopia take to the pitch today in their Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup opener, it would be far more than just a game for the players.

The Walyas, as the national team is known, have been banned by Fifa since June 2008 and today's match against Djibouti represents a lull in football starvation akin to what millions in back home in Ethiopia face.

I say 'lull' because Fifa had a meeting with the stakeholders of Ethiopian football last week but an impasse could not be reached so they remain banned. They can play in the Cecafa Cup because the tournament isn't a Fifa-organized one.

So, why are they banned? It's because the Ethiopian government sought to interfere with the Fifa-recognized Football Federation. This is in direct contravention of Article 14 paragraph 1 of the Fifa statutes.

A guy called Ahmed Yassin is the man the central government wanted in the hot seat while Fifa still recognises Dr. Ashebir Woldegiorgis (take your time in calling that one!) as the legit President of the EFA.

For the players who have suffered the lack of international football due to these political games, the Cecafa Cup represents an early Christmas. Indeed.

Ethiopian coach Abreham's side have been drawn in Group A with Zambia, Kenya and Djibouti. His players have been reported as saying that they dont mind what the final outcome would be: they just want to play football.

I cant help thinking that this is yet another sad story for Ethiopia who, in an ideal world, would be top of the African game. After all they were founding fathers of the Confederation of African football, having worked tirelessly to give the continent an identity through soccer - one it badly needed in the heated colonial climate of the 1950s and '60s.

This pillar of the continent's game has, unfortunately, been down the ladder for most of the past 50 years. The last time they were at a Nations Cup was back in 1982. And in relative terms, the Cecafa Cup has really been the only place the Walyas have shown any spark.

They've won the tournament 4 times and meeting Djibouti today may yet be a good thing - on paper. The men from Addis Ababa have hit ten goals past their smaller neighbours in their last two meetings and that trend may well continue.

Fifa ranks Ethiopia 131st in the world. If you think that's bad, Djibouti share the very last place in the Fifa rankings with the Pacific Islands of Cook Islands & Guam (where the hell is THAT?)

So for a romantic like myself, the resurgence of Ethiopia in African soccer would be a good rags-to-riches media story. That's why I'd be paying close tabs on today's game in Kenya.