The EFF: Raising a giant middle finger at Ethiopian Wiomen’s football

The Ethiopian women's football team aka Dinkinesh "Lucy"
The Ethiopian women’s football team aka Dinkinesh “Lucy”

By Zecharias Zelalem

Car horns are blaring, crowds are cheering. Patriotic songs are being played through mega speakers as the generation’s latest set of heroes make their way from an open bus parade of the Ethiopian capital to Addis Ababa stadium. No, this isn’t a military victory rally, nor the reception commonly given to the national athletics team upon their return from the Olympics. This is June 2012, and the Ethiopian women’s national football team, also referred to as “Lucy,” are being honored by a nation after successfully qualifying for the 2012 Africa Women’s Football Championship. Twenty four teams had set out to reach the final tournament which would be held in Equatorial Guinea that year, and Ethiopia’s girls ensured that they would be among Africa’s eight elite present at the finals. In the days following their monumental achievement, the members of that legendary women’s team would be showered in cash prizes and accolades, as their heroic exploits lifted the spirits of a nation and were seen as the dawn of a new age in Ethiopian women’s football.

Fast forward to the present, Ethiopian football fans are up in arms. A footballing disaster, an administrative blunder, has cost this generation of Ethiopia’s female footballers another chance to shine. Due to the absentmindedness of the suits behind the closed doors of the Ethiopian football federation (EFF) whose opaque dealings and incompetent practices have long provoked the ire of Ethiopian football fans for as long as anyone can remember, Lucy looks set to being confined to roaming in the wilderness for at least three years.

That is to say, without a kick of a ball, without a referee’s blow of the whistle, the Ethiopian women’s national football team have been excluded from the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations AND the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic women’s football tournament.

For those of you still scratching your heads not fully grasping exactly what went wrong here, the draw to sort out the first stages of qualification for the 2016 AFWCON went ahead as planned last week at CAF headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. However, Ethiopia wasn’t a part of the draw, apparently having forgotten the common procedure of sending a letter to CAF confirming Ethiopia’s desire to participate. Due to CAF receiving no letter of notification from the EFF, Ethiopia weren’t included in the draw and thus not included in the qualification process. EFF Public Relations head Wondimkun Alayu told Ethiopian football online magazine Soccer Ethiopia that Ethiopia “hadn’t received an invitation from CAF to take part in the tournament,” in what may go down as the most pathetic excuse ever given for an administrative howler this big.

Since the 2016 AFWCON tournament doubles as a qualification tourney for the 2016 women’s Olympic football competition, Lucy finds herself dumped out of both contests simultaneously. Indeed, nothing short of a footballing disaster, as a described above.

The EFF’s ineffectiveness as a national football body has long been noted by frustrated Ethiopian football fans. From the debacle of Minyahile Teshome’s playing a world cup qualifier despite being on two yellow cards, to the federation’s ignoring of a friendly invitation last year that could have seen Ethiopia play Colombia in Qatar, to their recent declaration that they would drop Walid Atta from the national team since the EFF didn’t have enough money to cover the player’s travel costs, the EFF administration have been responsible for one national humiliation after another. Long despised and constantly facing accusations of corruption, Ethiopian Premier League coaches and backroom staff have repeatedly called on a cleaning out process of the EFF, which would start with the dismissal of EFF President Junedine Beshah.

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