Elevating Ethiopia

Elevating Ethiopia’s: Sport talents how the Ethiopian youth sports academy strives to lift the talent level

It is now already four years since the Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy opened its doors to train young talents and bring an elevated performance amongst Ethiopian athletes and other sports persons. At the beginning of the current fiscal year, 148 young athletes graduated from the Academy in ten disciplines after four years of training. Overall, close to 500 individuals received trainings since May 2013. However, the achievements of the academy are full of contrasts. While some trainees secure contracts even before completing their training others are becoming just Certificate of Competence holders. EBR’s Adjunct writer Abiy Wondifraw explores the issue to report this.

Whenever a high profile sports personality comes from abroad, its likely that he/she visits the Ethiopian Youth Sport Academy (EYSA). Gianni Infantino, president of the global football governing body FIFA, was there just weeks after taking office on February 2016. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach visited the sport complex just months after the Academy inauguration four years ago. After arriving in Ethiopia in different rounds of Dashen Brewery grass root development project, Arsenal legends Ray Parlour and Martin Keown stayed for a day in the same compound with kids. The former Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele is another big sport person to meet the trainees of the Academy. In August 2017, Ahmad Ahmad, President of the Confederation of African Football had the chance to visit all the facilities in the compound.

At the end of such visits, it is common to hear guests admiring and appreciating the country’s commitment towards investment on sport related infrastructure across the country.  For instance, Ahmad while visiting the Academy said: “I have to say that I am really happy about my visit to the Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy, and this is the level of development we are looking for.” However, the question can the country make the most out of the Academy and return the investments on the sport infrastructure remains to be unanswered even four years after it was inaugurated.

The Academy, which is built on 24 hectares of land at a cost of ETB290 million around Gerji area in Bole District, are expected to bring an elevated talent level amongst Ethiopian athletes and other sports persons. This year, the academy had its graduation ceremony. The 148 graduates attended training for four years in 10 sport disciplines. Close to 500 individuals received training in the last four years.

Two monthes ago, the Academy was also packed with 455 youngsters recruited from selected potential areas all over the country. After passing the medical, fitness, technical as well as tactical examinations, 341 new trainees are recruited in 10 disciplines to join the Academy.

Besides imparting the knowledge and skills that nurture talents, EYSA organized four Annual Sport Science Research Conferences where papers were presented and discussed. Though the officials of the Academy look satisfied with the overall achievements so far, many are expressing their concerns on the performance of the athletes the Academy is producing.

Of course, 126 of the 148 graduates have already joined different sport clubs and associations. The Academy claims that in the sport disciplines like swimming where there are no official clubs, it is helping graduates to find jobs after they passed the Certificate of Competence examination. “While national teams are now knocking the door to recruit best athletes, hotels are hiring lifesavers from the swimming sport graduates.” Anbesaw Enyew, Director of EYSA told EBR.

In the last four years, 210 trainees of the Academy received a call from athletics, football, basketball and boxing national teams. However, the national Taekwondo team is the one where the academy youngsters’ shined. So far 25 trainees represented the country in continental and international Taekwondo tournaments, according to Anbesaw.

Nardos Sisay, 19, is one of the martial artists who graduated from the Academy and represent her country in international tournaments. The girl from Shashemene town, in the state of Oromia, collected gold medal for her country in African Youth Olympic Games held in Gaborone, Botswana in 2014 for the first time in Ethiopia’s history.  She also won gold in Congo Brazzaville shining at the 2015 All African Games while she won the silver medal at International Open Tournament held in Morocco last year. With a bronze medal in the qualifiers tournament in Igadir, Morocco, the then 18 years old only just fell short of meeting the requirements for Rio Olympics.

Another gem of the Academy, worth mentioning is Tadele Zewdu, 21, who joined the Academy after shining in the 2013 National Youth Project Championship in Bahir Dar. Since then, he collected staggering 38 gold medals in domestic swimming competitions alongside significant numbers of silver and bronze medals. With all these achievements under his belt, Tadele is already receiving recognition as the best swimmer of his age in the country. Mentioning such progress as a success Anbesaw says “We are happy that we meet one of the objectives, which are producing talents. We want to see more and more graduates joining clubs and the national teams.”

Although there were reports that clubs are grabbing the best talents before completing their designated training period, Anbesaw denies the story. “There is no way a club can take our trainee prior to graduation. Clubs and trainees cannot have legal contract without the later secured clearance letter from the Academy. Federations and sport associations are well aware of this.” he added

Nevertheless, there are who claim that football trainees look always tempted by the ever-growing salary and benefit packages offered by clubs participating in Ethiopia’s football at different levels. The country’s top clubs with almost no scouting network are showing interest on the already recruited talents in the Academy before their potential value gets inflated.

There are still other who ask about the financial gains of the Academy. Anbesaw underscored that the academy will never claim compensation and solidarity payments as this is not the primary mission and objective of the project. “This is a government institution. We are not doing business. Our task is filling the gap in the supply side (sport) sector. Government is involved here because the private sector is yet to engage itself in the sector. So we do not claim payments. We are glad to see our graduates get employed and paid high.”

Leaving the training compensation payments aside, many question why the Academy sleeps on the potential revenue it could have from renting the facilities. “Addis is becoming short of play grounds and open spaces. The Academy has everything among the few are training grounds, sport complex, gymnasium, cinema hall, shops and even open plots to build on,” says the marketing manager of a private event organizing company, who contacted the Academy to rent hall in the past.

Anbesaw admits that there were suggestions to consider the facilities as the source of revenue. “People come here and ask us to rent different facilities in the Acadamy. But our interest in the Academy is producing talents, not making money. Doing business cannot go along with this big task. Government allocates sufficient budget for what we do.”

The annual budget of ETB21.5 million in 2012/13 that the EYSA commenced with is now five folded. The budget for 2017/18 is around ETB107.3 million which exceeds the previous year’s amount by more than ETB30 million.

6th Year . November 2017 . No.55

Abiy Wendifraw

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