Volleyball has been one of the most popular sports in Ethiopia since the 1970s. The country participated in continental competition both in the men and women’s category until the late 1990s. These days, volleyball no longer enjoys popularity among Ethiopian sports fans. EBR adjunct writer Abiy Wondifraw explores the issue to report this.
In the 1970s, volleyball was the most popular activity in Ethiopia. The sport was first introduced and practiced in schools. The best and most well known volleyball players and coaches were recruited from such schools.
Genet Petros, 39, made it to the top level of the competitive sport. “I was a sixth grader when I first played volleyball at school. After two years, I made it onto the team for the school competitions. It became my career as a player, and now as a coach.” Genet now coaches a women’s volleyball team.
Genet’s generation was motivated by a relatively better opportunity to play for the national team than previous generations. Ethiopia is one of the founding members of the African Volleyball Commission founded in 1967, and the African Volleyball Confederation established in 1972. Until the late 1990s, the country participated in continental competition in both the men and women’s category. Even during the political transitions in 1991 and 1993, the Ethiopian women’s national volleyball team qualified for the Women’s African Volleyball Championship.
But, all that has become a thing of the past. The players Genet coaches now, have little opportunities beyond the club competition. It has been a few years since the Ethiopian National Volleyball Team regularly participated in continental competitions. Before this, Ethiopia had teams competing in East African and other continental tournaments. There were also, a few domestic championships between schools, woredas, zones and regions from which some excellent players were recruited for the national team. Now, a national volleyball team does not exist in the country.
The players’ maximum salary does not exceed ETB5,000. “The best talents we find might not stay in the sport after realizing this,” Genet argues. “It is difficult for the players. You are told that you are among the best in the country and get paid this amount. Later, you know you have a very small opportunity to play for the national team. This makes it really difficult to motivate players to work hard and improve. I understand the financial limitations. But having a national team would give us some more advantages.”
“Budget constraint is the biggest challenge we have. Volleyball is a team sport. Setting up a national team demands a lot of money, which we do not have,” says Teklu Shewaye, office head at the Ethiopian Volleyball Federation (EVF). Just like many sport federations, the annual subsidy of ETB350,000 endowed by the government, is insignificant.
Along with domestic championships (including the premier league), EVF organizes training for referees, coaches and others technical personnel.
“It is very sad to see volleyball fading at the top level. I think the invitations always come from continental championship organizers. I guess we are just wasting opportunities,” says Teklu. “Building a strong national team might take time. But we should give the players opportunity to gain international experience.”
Though experts look frustrated by the lack of international competitions for the national team, EVF seems busy with projects at the lower level. The Federation works with 172 project sites, most of which have been formed all over the country. They have the ability to recruit the best young talent seen in over a decade; however, the outcomes of projects have not been good enough. “Finding just two or three youths in a year to join the sport academy isn’t adequate,” says Teklu.
In the Southern State, where Genet grew up, volleyball is still a very popular sport. One can see volleyball pitches in schools, residential areas and even market places. “Farmers and traders play volleyball after they are done with their work. Shoppers watch the competition, and some wait for their turn to play,” says Genet.
Though there are other areas in the country with the potential to produce talent in the country, Southern State is believed to be the most productive one for volleyball. The men’s volleyball premier league champions of last year, Wolaita Dicha, are from there.
“In some areas, volleyball has long been like a cultural sport,” argues Genet. “Others have the potential to produce qualified players. The states of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, Oromia, Gambela and Benshangul Gumuz have better recruits.”
In Ethiopia, volleyball is suffering now. The Federation believes more financing and sponsorship might help to improve the current status of the sport. Last year, Dangote Cement sponsored the Federation by handing outETB350,000 for a year. Currently, officials of the Federation are waiting for the new deal that can secure them around half a million birr. “We are looking for others to strengthen our budget,” says Teklu.
“I hear the media complaining about the lack of sport centers because of all the constructions in Addis. Erecting two poles with a net on a small plot of land can attract a few people around residential areas. Even the resident associations in condominiums can do this. Kids, youths and adults would love it. It is not that expensive. Volleyball is a sport that one can easily fall in love with,” says Tamene.
Volleyball is surprisingly the second most popular sport played for more than 120 years by close to a billion people in the world. Globally, Brazil, the United States, China, Russia and Germany are among the top countries to participate in and win international tournaments.
In Africa, no national team had been able to obtain impressive results in international competitions neither in women’s nor in men’s events, until 2004. However, countries like Egypt and Tunisia have maintained consistent Olympic participation in recent years. From the African continent, Egypt and Tunisia—in men’s and women’s volleyball—and Kenya, in women’s volleyball, dominate.
Tamene argues that volleyball has the potential to be at least the second most popular sport next to football in Ethiopia. Genet, a mother of three, hopes that volleyball will see resurgence in popularity if the Federation, experts and other relevant stakeholders put more effort in it.
Being a coach of the Women Federal Prison Volleyball Club, Genet is always on the lookout for youths interested in volleyball. One of the few youngsters she has found is her own daughter, Abigiya Tesema, 13. Replying to the question of whether she would advise her daughter to go for a career in a sport with meager rewards, Genet says: “Sport always has rewards. Your fitness, health and mental satisfaction are the minimum rewards, which I think are worth it. The decision is hers.”
6th Year . January 16 – February 15 2018 . No.57