Engendered Ethiopian Football

It might be the case that the Ethiopian football scene has not witnessed a significant national victory for a long time. Yet, the recent performance of the Women’s National Football Team shows that the era could easily be reversed but not painlessly. A passion to win has to be coupled with unflinching coaching to change the historic conundrum that fans are so heartbroken over. 

In a country where football means little more than the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga and

where the national squad is only discussed in terms of despair or constant failure, the almost incredible occasion of the Ethiopia Women’s National Football Team beating its Egyptian counterpart four to zero here at National Stadium was almost a miracle. It turned the faces of thousands of football fans into glittering smiles of ecstasy seen only once in a blue moon.

The victory enjoyed last Sunday, January 29, 2012, by the Ethiopian women’s squad was not only a feat that cleared the two goal deficit sustained by the squad a fortnight earlier in Cairo, when the Egyptian women’s team beat the Ethiopian footballers by four goals to two in the first leg of the match. The Ethiopians scored an aggregate of six goals to four to qualify for the next match with their Tanzanian counterparts.

Judging by the dominance in skill and tactics exhibited by the Ethiopian women footballers, it was almost incomprehensible how the team lost in Cairo in the first place, unless there were certain pressures that

the concerned officials did not want to reveal to the public out of decency or modesty.

The Ethiopian squad was playing the game as if the whole match was conducted for the eyes of a Hollywood camera. Many fans were present at National Stadium simply to pay due respect and tribute to the call of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) and the media, even though they thought the inevitable result was defeat. This is because the football community rank and file, by and large, have never given due attention to the women’s football team, be it in terms of the necessary moral or material support, at least in comparison to the support and stronger affection given to the male players.

Thousands of spectators and victory-thirsty fans were stunned by the performance that the largely diminutive players of the Ethiopian side exhibited. They were able to prove, beyond any doubt, that football is a game of mental capability rather than physical composition.

The Federation may not have the necessary financial resources for women footballers, in general, and the national team, in particular, but coaches Abraham Teklehaimanot and his assistant showed a rare unf l inching effort in their c o a c h i n g performance.

The Ethiopian women proved better than their male counterparts, presumptuously expressed thousands of people. This statement emanated from the feeling of desperation that the men’s Ethiopia National Football Team has taken to defueling their fans as a way of life.

The fact that the Ethiopian women’s squad has won its arrival is irrefutable. But, the statement that says that the women are better than the men is a misstatement that implies gender inequality or the inability to accept that women are equal in their own right.

The athletics victories won by Ethiopian women on many occasions cannot prove or assert this view any better. Ever since the veteran athletes such as Derartu Tulu and Fatuma Roba brought deserved Olympic medals and honour to Ethiopia, other women athletes have scaled up the success story pushing the limits so much so that their names have become legendary.

The economic contributions that these athletes have made over the years are also immense . Institutions like the Tirunesh Dibaba Athletics Centre built in Arsi Zone, Oromia Regional State, is a case in point.

The athletes, through their unreserved performances, have been able to paint beautiful colours all over the name and image of this ancient land, against all odds. So, too, may be the case for the women’s football team when they play with their Tanzanian counterpart.

Authorities will arrange matches prior to the Ethio-Tanzanian game to give the squad a chance to better prepare and get exposure, many sports fans hope. Male footballers, some of whom have reached and surpassed the half a million Birr mark for transfer payments, will learn lessons from their female counterparts and bear fruit in their efforts to play football, they also hope, not only for material benefit but also for the good name of the country.

During the break, one of the strikers told the coach that she would score a goal after the break. Surprisingly, she lived up to her promise and scored a goal from a distant penalty shoot. She, then, gazed at the coach after the incident with a “did I not tell you so” look.

When asked what the driving force behind this success story could be, the coaches emphatically asserted that the members of the squad have nothing much except their solidarity and mutual affection for each other that drives them to move forward and carry out their mission successfully.

One thing that the women footballers are aware of, though, is the danger of complacency. Of course, as is always the case, the football gurus and concerned experts are expected to give the team all the necessary support in the interim period.

They need not feel complacent about it or settle for anything less than the trophy. If so, they might contribute to an essential facelift of this culturally rich nation that often is portrayed as a place of civil strife, famine, and starvation.

Author: Girma Feyissa is a long time columnist for Addis Fortune newspaper based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He can be reached at: girma@addisfortune.com.