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Ethiopia: How Netizens Reacted to Suspension of Athletes

Did online reactions from Ethiopian netizens contributed to the move by the Ethiopian Athletics Federation to lift the suspension of Ethiopian athletes banned for not reporting for an early pre-Olympic camp? On Friday January 20, 2012 Ethiopian State Television (ETV) broke the news that the Ethiopian Athletics Federation has banned 35 athletes for an indefinite period – including double Olympic champions Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba from the London Games in a dispute over training. The suspension was lifted Tuesday January 24, 2012.

As the London Olympic championship is looming and resentment is fermenting amongst the public over deteriorating results of Ethiopian athletes in the past few years, the news of their suspension captured the interest of netizens.

The decision ignited hullabaloo and mixed reactions online. On January 20 journalist Ermias Amare responded in Amharic to the decision of the athletics governing body on his Facebook page:

Kenenisa Bekele at the World Championship Athletics 2009 in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Erik van Leeuwen.

የፍፃሜው መጀመሪያ እንዳይሆን፡፡ ቀነኒሳ፣ ጥሩነሽ፣ ስለሺ እና ሌሎች 13 ዕውቅ አትሌቶች በኢትዮጵያ አትሌቲክስ ፌዴሬሽን የቅጣት መዝገብ ላይ ሰፈሩ፡፡ ቅጣቱ ከማንኛውም ዓለምአቀፍ እና የሀገር ውስጥ ውድድር አትሌቶቹን ማገድ ነው፡፡ ቀጪውም ሆነ ተቀጪዎቹ ጋር ሥር የሰደደ ችግር እንዳለ በደንብ አውቃለሁ፡፡ የቀጪው አካሄድ ካልደፈረሰ አይጠራም ይመስላል፡፡ ጣጣው ግን ደፍርሶ ያልጠራ ዕለት ነው፡፡ እኔ በግሌ ማንን “ሃይ” እንደምል ጨንቆኛል፡፡

I am afraid this could be the beginning of the end. Kenenisa Bekele ,Tirunesh Dibaba ,Seleshi Sehen and other 13 prominent athletes are banned from taking part in any local and international competitions. I know that both the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and the banned athletes have deep rooted problems. It appears the Federation approached the crisis with shake it to get right state of mind but the hitch will be even worse when the Federation fails to get it right. Personally, I find myself in a deadlock whom to address.

Addis Neger’s Facebook page linked to an article quoting Kenenisa Bekele's agent Jos Hermens:

It's good for forthcoming new athletes, but for people like (double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba) Dibaba or Kenenisa or (long distance great) Haile Gebrselassie, they have their individual programmes so you cannot just put them in a general programme from the federation.

Kiflu Hussain asked:

I wonder how much of this is politics & how much of it is pure matters of sport.

Tirunesh Dibaba at June 2008(2008-06-07), 21:13 Source Exxon Mobil ÅF Golden League Bislett Games 2008. Photo courtesy of Ragnar Singsaas (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The story took another turn when Kenenisa allegedly asked to run for another country after he learnt that he is banned. An anonymous commentator from Eretria wrote:

Eritrea would kill to have him run under its flag. If he is really considering running for another country, who else could be more Ethiopian than Eritrea? Let him run for us and we will give him a thousand soldiers march in as Asmara when he come back victorious. And, Weyanes would learn how to treat a hero.

Sola said:

Ban is a last resort measure .I don't think the EAF is serious banning all those great athletes ,it just want to give a harsh notice .I believe they can sort out a solution.

Jean larque argued that the problem is mixing politics with sports:

It's shame to hear this news from the federation. It's amazing all management staff members are politicians they do everything for the benefit of a leading party in the country. Kennenisa for Abyssinia

This is Micky's analysis of the problem:

Anyone who has ever dealt with officials in Ethiopia knows that the little power they have tends to go to their head.

The Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) said that the suspension was lifted after the athletes apologized. Ethiopia has been a major participant in the Olympic Games since 1956.

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