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Year in review: sports

Year in review: sports

Bad start for the Walias

One of highlights of the 2016/17 football season in Ethiopia is the African Cup of Nation’s (AFCON) qualifier at which Ghana trashed the Ethiopian National Team (aka the Walias) 5-0 on the first leg of the qualifier. The Walias did rather poorly in the match compared to their performance previously. 

The Walias were grouped with Kenya, Sierra Leone and Ghana in the 2019 AFCON qualifier. The starting match was a disappointing moment for the new-appointed coach. The Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) had appointed former Adama City coach Ashenafi Bekele to replace sacked coach Yohannes Sahle. Ashenafi promised to help the Walias qualify for AFCON.

The Walias played 6 matches, including AFCON, African Nations Championship (CHAN) and friendly games but managed to win only one match, defeating Djibouti 5-0.The 2019 AFCON journey of the team will be decided after five remaining games. But in the CHAN qualifying match, Ethiopia could not show any improvement while playing against Sudan at Hawassa Stadium and away. The Walias drew 1-1 at home and lost 1-0 in Sudan.

Following poor support from EFF, it is rumored that coach Ashenafi has reportedly tendered a letter of resignation. Meanwhile, the Walias will play the second round qualifier match against Sierra Leone on March 23, 2018 at the Addis Ababa Stadium.

Elsewhere, the 2017 new Confederation of African Football (CAF) presidency election was also another highlight of Ethiopian football. Madagascar Football Association Chief Ahmad Ahmad was elected CAF president, ending Issa Hayatou’s 29 year reign.  Ahmad won 34 of the 54 votes at the election held in Addis Ababa in March.

After electing a new president, CAF’s executive body approved a few changes, viz., raising to 24 the number of cup-contesting nations from the current 16, and moving the time table from the beginning of the year to June-July. Ata symposium held months ago, the expansion focused on increasing the number of participating teams, which in turn will boost TV revenues. 

EPL, St. George triumph

The 2016/17 Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) season also saw records broken in the history of Ethiopian football. St. George (Horsemen) won for the fourth year running and for the 14th time overall. St.Geroge clinched the EPL title for a record-shattering time after narrowly defeating relegation-zone Electric, with 62 points. Meanwhile, St. George became the first Ethiopian club to reach the African Champions League round 32 when beating Cote d Or of Seychelles 3-0.

The Horsemen found themselves in a tough group in the African Champions League draw.  St. George was grouped with South African side Mamelodi Sundown’s in Group C. Also in the same group were Esperance of Tunisia and Democratic Republic of Congo’s AS Vita, who were continental champions in the past.  St. George qualified for the group stages after defeating AC Leopards of the Republic of Congo 3-0 on aggregate.

But the Horsemen were eliminated after a 1-0 loss to Mamelodi Sundown’s at Addis Ababa Stadium.  The loss put St. George at 3rdplace with 5 points: win 1, draw 2 and lose 3.

Elsewhere, after EFF raised the number of EPL clubs from 14 to 16, the league has seen increasing rivalry among clubs. Last season, it was not easy to name a winning club up until the last two matches.  Sidama Coffee, Dedebit, Adama City and Ethiopia Coffee were vying for top place whereas Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), Jimma Aba Bunna, Electric and Addis Ababa City were at the bottom of the table.

Addis Ababa was relegated in its debut season with20 points. Similarly CBE with 31 points and Jimma Aba Bunna with 32 points (with talk of match-fixing in the air) are relegated.

Another record in EPL history was broken by Dedebit forward Getaneh Kebede. He became top goal scorer of all time with 25 goals in 30 games, in the process breaking the record held by Electric striker Yordanos Abay for16 years with 24 goals.

New president for EAF, London hosts IAAF championships

Legendary long-distance runner Haile Gebreselassie was elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF). The two-time Olympic 10,000 meters champion received nine of the 15 votes by regional athletics representatives. Another long-distance runner, GebreEgziahaber Gebremariam, was appointed assistant to Haile. At the elections, there were controversial issues between new candidates and previous office-holders.

Haile made some changes over the last seven months. The new administration has signed a 30-million birr five-year sponsorship deal with Sofi Malt. The federation also announced a massive doping test on Ethiopian athletes in all local competitions and is poised to roll out testing pre-competition and during training. Haile also stated that he would not hesitate to send dopers to jail.

Also during the time under consideration, the Ethiopian athletics team was in London for the 2017 IAAF Athletics Championships at which another 203 nations were participating. The championships were held August 4 to 13, and saw superb performance by Ethiopians while pointing to areas for improvement as well. With astonishing performance, Muktar Edris took over unbeatable 10-time world champion Mo Farah to earn his first win in the men’s 5,000 meters, becoming the first person in six years to break Mo Farah’s record at a championship final.  Women’s 10,000 meters world record holder Almaz Ayana was another gold medalist at the 2017 IAAF Championships.

Three silver medals were won by Tirunesh Dibaba in the women’s 10,000meters, Tamirat Tola in the men’s marathon and Almaz in the women’s 5,000meters.

In general, the sporting season of 2016/17 was promising in all kinds of sporting events. Disagreements between athletes’ managers and national team coaches at IAAF championships marred the integrity of Ethiopian sport, but not on the scale of match-fixing at EPL.