Building Dreams on Broken Bricks

Ethiopia’s Lack of Standard Stadiums Thwarts Footballing Ambitions

Ethiopia is a distant observer while the continent’s finest footballers take centre stage in Côte d’Ivoire for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023. Having graced the AFCON stage in Cameroon just two years ago, the “Waliyas” now watch from afar, a stark reminder of their struggles to sustain continental relevance.

This absence highlights a more profound malaise afflicting Ethiopian football: the glaring lack of a stadium meeting CAF and FIFA standards. Dr. Brook Genene, a prominent sports commentator for EBR, delves into this critical issue, revealing its detrimental impact on both results and player development. Indeed, Ethiopia’s recent stumbles can be partly attributed to the absence of a world-class stadium. Substandard facilities hinder both domestic and international competition, crippling player development and eroding fan confidence.

Hosting international matches abroad creates logistical nightmares and hampers the crucial home-field advantage. The intangible boost of playing before a passionate home crowd is lost diminishes team morale. Lack of proper infrastructure directly impacts player training and exposure. Subpar pitches and inadequate facilities further hinder honing technical skills and tactical awareness, leaving Ethiopian players at a disadvantage compared to their continental counterparts.

The stadium issue transcends mere AFCON qualification. It represents a critical bottleneck in Ethiopia’s footballing ambitions. Without standard stadiums across the nation, Ethiopia risks falling further behind its African peers, both on the pitch and in attracting investment and sponsorships.

Upgrading stadium infrastructure is not just a technical or financial challenge; it requires a concerted effort from stakeholders, including the government, footballing bodies, and private investors. Only through collaboration can Ethiopia break free from this crippling constraint and unlock the true potential of its footballing dreams.

EBR’s assessment paints a concerning picture but also offers a call to action. By prioritising stadium development and finalising already-started facilities through a collaborative effort, Ethiopia can rebuild its footballing foundations and reclaim its rightful place among Africa’s finest. The road ahead may be long, but the sporting and cultural rewards are worth the effort.

The 2023 African Cup of Nations started on January 13 in Côte d’Ivoire. The colourful fans and the vibrant atmosphere were a sight to behold. In this biggest continental sporting event, Africa celebrates the beautiful game. There was a visa-free entrance for fans from Guinea, Ghana, Mali, and Burkina Faso, meaning more spectators would attend the stadium games.

Côte d’Ivoire reportedly spent over 1 billion dollars to stage the tournament. According to Semafor Africa, The Alassane Ouattara stadium, also known as the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé, was designed and built by two Chinese state entities — the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and the Beijing Construction Engineering Group, respectively. The 20,000-capacity Laurent Pokou Stadium in San-Pédro, in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire, was built by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. China National Building Material Group was the general contractor for the 20,000-capacity Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo, north of the country, hosting Group D matches.

Togolese broadcaster New World TV spent a staggering 80 million Dollars to broadcast AFCON and 12 CAF competitions over the next two years. The deal surprised fans and shocked the most prominent sports broadcaster in the continent- Multichoice. CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe said: “The Media Rights Agreement with New World TV is the most significant investment by a Pan-African broadcaster in CAF’s history. We are very proud to partner with such a globally competitive and innovative broadcasting company that has adapted quickly to the modern football audience’s changing demands and viewing patterns. “

Ethiopia has become a spectator among these occurrences in African football. The Waliyas failed to progress from the qualifying group that saw Egypt top the standing, with Guinea following them to the tournament. During the qualifiers, the Ethiopian national team had to play its home games away from the country as the stadiums still needed to fulfil the CAF standards. The team finished at the bottom of the group with only four points from six games.

Ethiopia hosted Egypt in Malawi while facing Guinea in Morocco and, finally, Malawi in Mozambique. In addition to losing home advantage and match-day revenue, the Ethiopian Football Federation paid large sums of foreign currency to stage the games. Even though the game against Egypt in Malawi attracted some fans who reside there, that one-off success wasn’t to be replicated both on and off the pitch.

“Not being able to have home games has psychological problems, affects the sporting aspect, and morale of players. It creates an inferior mentality. Not having the altitude advantage in Addis Abeba directly affects results,” explains Mensur Abdulkeni, a renowned football journalist.

Mensur explains that the pitch conditions in Ethiopia could be better, but the players are used to it. When they play away games on smooth pitches, they unconsciously make decisions as if they are playing on patchy fields, which affect their performance. “Even in Europe, we have seen some teams letting the grass grow taller so that they can disrupt the passing football of dominant teams”, he adds.

He believes the leading share of the blame for not building quality stadiums should lie with the Ministry of Culture and Sports. “The government is the one who builds stadiums. Clubs don’t have stadiums, and the football federation doesn’t build stadiums. The federation, however, should have put more pressure on the ministry office to build quality stadiums,” he tells EBR.

Meanwhile, neighbouring East African countries Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are poised to stage the 2027 edition of AFCON. Ethiopia seems so far away from bringing back a tournament it co-founded. Ethiopia last hosted the tournament in 1976. With the problems in infrastructure so prevalent, it can take a few decades before we see any game in Africa’s capital.

Stadiums are mega projects, and foreign currency is needed to finalize it. “I think it will take many years before we see Ethiopia host AFCON”, Mensur says. He states there is hope in how the Bahir Dar stadium started, but the region’s current state can delay progress. He adds, “Even though Ethiopians love football, the governance is poor”.

“The federation is working together with the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The club licensing department is continuously monitoring the situation,” explains Bahiru Tilahun, General Secretary of the Ethiopian Football Federation. He further states that professionals have been brought from abroad to assess the situation at the Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar stadiums to finish the renovation quickly. “Officials also went to Côte d’Ivoire to look at stadiums and observe how things are being done,” he says.

The lack of a quality stadium is the national team’s and Ethiopia’s ability to host continental events and hinders local competition. Because of the delayed renovation at Addis Abeba Stadium and the pause in construction of Adey Abeba Stadium, it has been a couple of years since the Ethiopian Premier League took place in the capital.

Football fans have voiced their frustration over being unable to see their clubs closely. Many football fans live in Addis Ababa and most support the two famous clubs- Ethiopia Bunna and St. George. The league administration needs to capitalize on this particular advantage.

Hosting league games in Addis Ababa ensures better attendance than in regional towns. It not only increases the sale of tickets but also enables the competition to look livelier compared with a broadcast on TV to numerous spectators across the continent.

The problem with playing surface in regional stadiums has also posed a threat. During rainy seasons, the pitch becomes impossible to play on. It affects the game’s quality and makes for a lousy viewing on the screen. Players will labour to get control of the ball while exposing themselves to injuries while trying to perform in these harsh conditions.

Even among stadiums outside of Addis Ababa, there has been an issue with getting them ready for the league campaign. Diredawa Stadium is still renovating as a new artificial pitch work took longer than anticipated. Hawassa Stadium has encountered delays due to a change in regional administration, and the handover process still needs to be completed. Bahir Dar and Mekelle stadiums need to be in a better place to host games. With these problems, Adama Science and Technology Stadium has been the sole host of the top division matches.

Bahiru says the lack of a standard stadium has mainly affected the federation. “We have tried to sign an MOU with the Morocco Football Federation and tried to form marketing strategies, but it will be hard to say how long this process will continue.” He explains that a considerable portion of the finances for football development remains squandered because of the stadium problem.

While presenting the half-year report to the parliament, Kejela Merdasa, minister of Culture and Sports, said the renovation at Addis Ababa stadium is final. Building the VIP section has taken time, but now the stadium is said to be ready to host Ethiopian Premier League games and national team matches.

All governing bodies should work in unison to address these glaring issues to take Ethiopian football out of the slumber. With proper governance and solid strategy, it will be possible to achieve the desired goals.

Ethiopian football fans want to see their national team on the biggest stage. Even though the country is facing many problems in the political and economic sectors, football can be a way to unite the people and create a harmonious nation. In 2006, Didier Drogba scored a goal that helped Côte d’Ivoire qualify for the World Cup. After scoring a goal, he appeared on TV and pleaded for a ceasefire to the civil war ravishing the country since 2002. His words bore fruit, and the two parties came to the negotiating table. Sport enthusiasts argue about the merit of football. Ethiopia can use a positive influence like this. EBR

12th Year • February 2024 • No. 126


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