Shield Mekele 70 Enderta from St. George’s Lance
7 July 2019
Local media reported this week that the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) has awarded three points and three goals to Fasil Football Club (Fasil) after St. George failed to show up for the scheduled match between the two teams in Gondar – the former’s home town. The news of the forfeiture was received with disbelief and dismay across Ethiopia. Supporters of Mekele 70 Enderta Football Club (Mekele City) were particularly flabbergasted. However, so long as the decision was taken in accordance with the extant rules of the game, there shouldn’t be any discord. In the interest of football, every member of the football community should humbly accept the decision however sour it may be.
That said, EFF’s decision must not be left unexamined, for the Federation’s unwise and unfair decision is likely to artificially sway the competition’s balance of power. With only one game to play, the competition has proved to be a three-horse race. Fasil, Mekele City and Sidama Bunna have high chances of winning the title. Especially Fasil and Mekele are separated only by goal difference. A distant fourth in the table, St. George have also a mathematical chance of winning the title. In such a situation where the top three teams are vying neck-and-neck for the Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) title, the EFF should have been equal to the task.
The forfeiture decision, however, exposed the veneer of the Federation’s insouciance and flimsiness. Had the EFF been more considerate, sensitive and neutral, forfeiture would not have been the best penalty. EFF could have taken other punitive actions against St. George. For example, it could have fined St. George for their unsporting behavior. Alternatively, it could have decided the Fasil-St. George match to be replayed. In that sense, EFF’s decision is far from being innocent and innocuous.
From ethical standpoint, the decision is utterly crooked. Allowing St. George to decide the title race through unscrupulous means is not only an affront on the EPL and a disgrace to the EFF, but also a huge disservice to the sporting family in general. Such unfair play is out of synch with FIFA’s spirit of Fair Play. Competitive football is about peace and fraternity. It is not about winning games by any means possible, including scheming. Given the extremely dicey political situation in the country, and the comingling of politics and sports, moreover, the EFF should have been more cautious than casual and more considerate than comical.
More baffling was St. George’s unwelcome decision to forfeit the match. Foremost, the club’s refusal to descend to Gondar is inexplicable. There hasn’t been any convincing ground for them to cancel their trip to Gondar. Nor have they fully explained the reason behind their unfortunate decision except that they did not want to take on Fasil before they could play their pending match against Welwalo Adigrat University, a match that was postponed for security reasons. At any rate, this is a lame excuse. It is perhaps a pretext to flout the rules.
As one of Africa’s oldest football clubs and the country’s most successful club, St. George should have behaved a bit more responsibly. They should have refrained from further complicating the country’s current football crisis. It would have been more honorable for them to stand above the crowd and hold the sporting spirit aloft. Honoring the EFF fixtures would have been the most decorous action that befits their pedigree and stature. They should have been the paragons of fair competition if not providers of direct support to the up-and-coming regional football clubs. They should have happily welcomed the competitive challenge the nascent regional clubs have put up against the better organized, Addis-based elite teams. Indeed, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” Contrary to the values of sport and at the critical juncture of the competition, unfortunately, the leadership of St. George Football Club stood at the wrong side of football history.
There is no peradventure that St. George’s decision was grossly unholy. St. George deliberately forfeited to bestow Fasil an undeserved win at the expense of Mekele City and Sidama Bunna. If Fasil had dropped even a single point from the forsaken match, there wouldn’t be any chance for it to top the League today. In forfeiting, St. George at least attempted to unfairly help Fasil stay at the top of the League. Despite the former’s pre-match press conference in which its officials overrated their club’s trifle mathematical chances of winning the League, the sporting family knows very well that St. George had long lost interest, if not hope, in this season’s competition. Suddenly now, however, they discovered a new role for themselves. In so doing, the club have stooped to playing a role of a “balancer” at best and a spoiler at worst. By failing to show up and thus shirking obligation, St. George have tipped the balance of power in favor of Fasil. St. George knew from the outset that through their forfeiture, Mekele City’s and Sidama Bunna’s season-long effort would come to naught. Their decision not to play in Gondar was a malicious act of a sporting wrapping. There is no doubt, therefore, their refusal to respect the EFF fixture was an outright subterfuge designed to hurt Mekele City and Sidama Bunna at the core. This is a sad un-sporting episode the footballing community should strongly denounce. It is out of keeping with football’s codified values. It is an outrageous sporting faux pas that shouldn’t be replicated elsewhere.
By demonstrating blasphemous solidarity with Fasil, St. George have wrenched the hearts of millions of Mekele’s and Sidama’s fans. Besides irking the football-loving community, St. George have brought their club into disrepute. Importantly, they have set a bad footballing precedent.
St. George’s foul play reminds me of the disgraceful match between West Germany and Austria in the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. Aiming to conjointly progress to the knock-out stages of the competition at the expense of Algeria – the African representative that had sent shock waves around the world by lashing West Germany 2-1 in their opening game - these two national teams “played” a dull game. Conniving to play under their normal performance, the European teams orchestrated the early elimination of the Desert Warriors. The infamous “exhibition” match played in the Spanish city of Gijon, to this day, is remembered as the quintessence of unsporting behavior. Globally, it later became to be known as “The Disgrace of Gijon”. In Algeria it is referred to as “The Scandal of Gijon” (ፋዲሓ ኺኾን) while the Germans themselves describe it as “The Non-Aggression Pact of Gijon”.
Upset more by the conduct than the outcome of the shameful game, I almost wept at the elimination of Algeria. For a young college student, the glaring injustice against the Algerian team was unbearable, the manner of its exit cruel. Just as many other football fans, I have yet to forgive Germany and Austria.
Another game whose memory still traumatizes me is the semi-final match between West Germany and France in the same World Cup. West Germany eliminated France. On that fateful night of 8 July 1982 in Seville, the West German goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, deliberately broke the jaw of the French substitute, Patrick Battiston. To add insult to injury, the referee penalized neither the cruelty of the West German goalkeeper nor the offence of the team. Sadly, West Germany eventually won the match 5-4 on penalty shootout. As one of the ardent fans of the greatest French team ever, I had no better option than to helplessly bemoan the outcome. For me, the result was hard to swallow, the experience excruciating, and the memory haunting. It was sad to see my great players – Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Manuel Amoros – lose in such scandalous circumstances.
Even though the West German offence was not committed against my own club or country, I couldn’t forget their unsporting behavior. This illustrates that football is not about country, club or kinship; it is about fair competition. Who, in the world, would easily forgive Luis Suarez of Uruguay for what he did against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? Who would easily forget Maradona’s “hand of God” in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico?
In the same vein, St. George’s unbecoming act has dismayed many football fans in Ethiopia and beyond. St. George’s unethical endeavor to grant Fasil a gratis trophy is universally denounceable. It is a shameful move that should not be repeated at all. Simply put, it is the “Scandal of Gijon” writ small.
No-one doubts Fasil’s performance this year has been fantastic. Playing attacking football, they have demonstrated consistency, efficiency and fortitude. Their accumulated game points and superior goal difference show their quality. I am sure the team does not want any undeserved advantage. It does not require St. George’s conferral of game points to become champions. I am confident as well that neutral and puritanical football aficionados would not want to see Mekele City suffer unwarranted disadvantage. Nor should Sidama Bunna be unfairly eliminated from the title race for mischievous reasons. Their current position in the League is well deserved.
Moreover, we should not lose sight of the fact that the three teams belong to all of us. After all, they are the purveyors of talent to our national team. Our hope to see the next generation of Mengistu Workus, Gebremedhin Hailes and Mulugeta Kebedes is pinned on these clubs. The fleeting and toxic political situation in the country notwithstanding, they are the hopes of the nation.
No one could speak with certitude whether there had been a match-fixing collusion of sorts between St. George and Fasil football clubs, but surely St. George’s decision excites suspicion. Are the leaders of St. George FC mixing politics with sports? Was their decision driven by tribal considerations? Only God knows. But the decision to forfeit the match against Fasil is likely to engender multitudes of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories aside, nonetheless, St. George’s bestowal of forfeiture on Fasil will be remembered as a dark record in the club’s otherwise glorious history. Whether or not Fasil wins the title, history would not forget St. George’s lance that accidentally poked Mekele’s and Sidama’s feet. For now, though, let’s collectively pray for the redemption of the otherwise inerrant St. George.
When our football gods and archangels are sick, perhaps administering the classic Athenian Oath is our only line of defense: “I will not bring dishonor on my sacred arms nor will I abandon my comrade... I will defend the rights of gods and men and will not leave my country smaller, when I die, but greater and better, … I will respect the rulers of the time duly and the existing ordinances duly…. Furthermore, if anyone seeks to destroy the ordinances, I will oppose him so far as I am able by myself and with the help of all. I will honor the cults of my fathers…”
Guanche – The Tree Cutter of Mekele – can be reached at: email@example.com