Ethiopia’s basketball programme has a rich history in Africa. In the 1950s, the country’s team was among Africa’s top five – and Ethiopia was even a founding member of the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA) African Championship. However, since the mid-1960s, the country’s basketball performance has been declining. In fact, Ethiopia hasn’t had a national basketball team for the last ten years. Basketball insiders say that this is due to the lack of structural support for the sport and a dearth of training facilities in the country. To that end, some people are trying to improve the status of the sport. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale spoke with basketball officials to learn more about what’s being done to bring prestige back to Ethiopia’s basketball programme.
Recently, Ethiopian basketball players and coaches had a rare opportunity to learn from some of the world’s best basketball players when a delegation from America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) visited Addis Ababa in mid-August. The delegation included Luol Ajou Deng, a Sudanese-British basketball player who currently plays for the Miami Heat, a professional basketball team that has won numerous championships in America.
The Ethiopian Basketball Federation (EBF) organised the three-day training, which was led by Deng and other members of the delegation. EBF officials organised the training with the hope of inspiring young Ethiopian basketball players and coaches, who they feel are responsible for building a national basketball team that can return to its former glory.
Ethiopia, which joined the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA) in 1949, earlier than most sub-Saharan African countries, was one of the founding members of the FIBA Africa Championship. In the 1950s, the Ethiopia basketball team was among Africa’s top 5 teams. Since the mid-1960s, however, the team lost its international significance.
In fact, Ethiopia hasn’t had a national basketball team for more than 10 years. “The national team’s performance was very poor, even at the East Africa level, a decade ago and the Federation decided to tear down the team and start from scratch,” Yimer Haile, head of the EBF, told EBR.
Although the Federation planned to close the national team for only two years at the time, Ethiopia still does not have a national team that can represent it at continental and international tournaments.
Currently, only the Under-16 national basketball team is participating in regional tournaments like the FIBA Africa Zone Five Club Championship. The EBF is also planning to launch an under-18 team this fiscal year, according to Yimer.
However, Yimer does not seem optimistic that Ethiopia can achieve its full potential, especially considering the lack of facilities, sport centres and gyms in the country. “The sport requires an intensive in-house workout and there is no facility for that. Although it needs a big investment, it can be rewarding if the sport is handled in a business manner, like football,” Yimer argues.
Dereje Endale, head coach for the Water Works Construction Enterprise Club, agrees with Yimer. “Unlike Ethiopia, most sub-Saharan African countries have at least three international-standard basketball facilities,” says Dereje.
The Arat Kilo Children and Youth Centre, which has the only in-house facility in the capital, is deteriorating after more than 58 years of service. Currently, the Centre houses trainings for 140 youths in basketball, in addition to six other sports.
Yimer and Dereje also argue that in addition to the absence of facilities, lack of finance is a major hindrance for the development of the sport. This is the reason why only a few basketball clubs participate in tournaments in the country according to Dereje.
Statistics paint a clear picture of the sport’s decline in the country. Although there were more than 12 strong clubs that had stable budgets 20 years ago, only four can be found currently. In addition to these, 11 basketball clubs are currently struggling with financial problems.
Such financial setbacks are also creating a challenging environment for young basketball players like Daniel Asfaw, who hopes to take his basketball career one-step further. “My salary was ETB1,200 for years although it increased to ETB2,000 recently,’’ says the young sport enthusiast, who currently plays for Water Works Construction Enterprise Club. “Because of this it is difficult to play basketball in Ethiopia.”
Dereje argues that such problems exist because attention and resources are not given to the sport by the government and other stakeholders. “Every year, the government allocates [monies] to the development of sports but only a few sport activities receive a huge chunk of the budget,” he argues.
Yimer also stresses that although the government is constructing stadiums in every region, building gymnasiums is not a consideration. “Globally, modern sport is changing into a fitness industry and Ethiopia is missing so much,” he says.
Carlos Thornton (a.k.a. Coach Carlos), a former professional American football player, founded Tasty Ballers Basketball Club in Ethiopia eight years ago. He says that despite Ethiopia’s history of being involved in African basketball tournaments, the sport is still not taken seriously in the country: “basketball can be a business if it is taken seriously,” he argues. “So far, I’ve facilitated a way for five players to sign to college teams in the United States.”
Nevertheless, stakeholder’s stress that the future will not be as gloomy as it seems today. Recently, the Ethiopian Under-16 team had a successful run during the 2015 FIBA-Africa U-16 Championship Tournament held in Rwanda. Although the team did not win the championship, the players performed well considering they competed against African basketball powerhouses like Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco and South Africa.
“Even participating in this big tournament was a success, since it is the first [one] for Ethiopia in 40 years,” explains Yimer. Developments such as this are the reason why Yimer and others feel as though there is hope that basketball will flourish in Ethiopia once again.
Yimer argues that basketball has been gaining momentum lately in Ethiopia due to youth projects the Federation launched. Over the last three years, 90 youth projects relating to basketball commenced operations. The number of tournaments held within a year also increased to six from two.
Despite the sport’s slow growth, those close to the issue stress that basketball should be incorporated into the education system in order to cultivate young players who will replicate the success the national team enjoyed half a century ago. EBR
4th Year • October 16 – November 15 2015 • No. 32