Ephrem Madebo – The late Yidnekachew Tessema, the undisputed father of modern sports in Ethiopia, was a man who effectively used sports to create closeness, peace, and understanding between people. Mr. Yidnekachew hailed from a highly political and uniquely poetic family, but during his lifelong service to our nation and to the African continent at large, Yednekachew clearly identified the fine line between sports and politics. He knew and understood where sport and politics differ and where they relate to each other.
Yedenekachew always advocated for the non-interference of politics in sports, but when the human dignity is mortified and when the freedom of people is bulldozed, Yednekachew always stood for higher moral values. He did not stand between the lines; he jumped the line and stood on the side of people. He did not allow “by-laws” that are subject to different interpretations to stop him from doing what is right. We Ethiopians and the whole world love Yednekachew because he was a man who valued liberty and equality above anything in the world.
When the “All Blacks”, the New Zealand Rugby team, visited South Africa in 1976, African nations led by Yednekachew Tesemma requested the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to ban New Zealand from the 1976 Olympic Games in Montréal. The IOC declined the request citing ESFNA like poor, myopic, and immature reason. In short, the IOC declined claiming that sports must be free of politics. But, Ethiopia’s Yednekachew and 28 African countries disagreed. The Africans did not want to wave their flag alongside the New Zealanders because at exactly the same time, the New Zealand Rugby team was visiting South Africa, a country where native blacks were treated as subhuman. During the 1976 Summer Games, what mattered to Yednekachew and to most African countries was not what the rules said – what mattered was freedom and equality. We as a society respect the law or obey rules only when the law protects freedom, otherwise, we always side with freedom.
The absence of freedom and lack of political and civil rights are the major characterizations that define Ethiopia in the world today. The Ethiopian people led by many political leaders, including Birtukan, are fighting for freedom and equality. I believe and the good gentlemen of ESFNA also believe that the struggle for liberty and equality supersedes any man-made law. The person who authored Ethiopia’s constitution did not even bother to honor the constitution when he tossed Birtukan to jail. To him the unjust action of sending Birtukan to jail was more important than the law of the land. Then why would the just action of inviting Birtukan as a guest of honor would be breaking the law in the minds of the ESFNA senior executives? As I said it above, the EFNA by-laws can be interpreted in so many different ways. Besides, if the executives of ESFNA were loyal to themselves, they could have invited Judge Birtukan instead of political Birtukan!
Come on ESFNA! No law [ordinance, rule, or procedure including your by-law] is sacrosanct when our liberty is taken away and when the soul of our people is battered by dictators. ESFNA’s contribution to the freedom of our nation may be minimal, but totally avoiding the struggle for freedom and still have that precious letter “E” in its name – to me is beyond the pale! Where is the spirit of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two black American athletes who performed the Black power salute at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City? Most importantly, where is the spirit of Yednekachew Tesema?
When the US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and when the USSR retaliated four years later in Los Angles – that was a political tit for a tat, and both incidents must have been avoided. But, when 28 African nations boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games, that was not just politics; it was the major part of the struggle against apartheid and it was the symbol of black solidarity! So what will be ESFNA’s place in history? Will it imitate the dirty political tic-tac-toe of the Soviets and the Americans, or it sides the Africans and be part of the freedom struggle in Ethiopia? The choice is yours, but don’t forget that every choice you make has consequences!
How do the Ethiopian people see Birtukan and how do ESFNA executives see Birtukan? Are the two mutually exclusive? Does ESFNA understand [even know] that Birtukan has multiple identities? She is a judge, not just a judge, but a model judge who courageously maintained judicial transparency. Birtukan is a community moral leader whose demonstrated virtuous life is a heritage that edifies the younger generation. Birtukan is a mother who has many things to say to young mothers. Birtukan is a leader of a political party (UDJ). I fail to understand why ESFNA chose only one aspect of Birtukan’s identity and played its own dirty politics in the name of avoiding politics? Birtukan has the potential to inspire the entire Diaspora, and she could have been ESFNA’s best guest of honor to date.
I am indifferent to “Face Saving” when it really saves, but I hate face saving when it hides the true face of people or organizations. Here is what ESFNA said in its Press Release: “ESFNA prides itself to be a democratic organization.” What a joke and what a ridiculously ludicrous statement! ESFNA’s senior executives reversed a decision made by the majority and yet you call this a democratic decision? Or are we talking “Revolutionary Democracy” here, a bad lesson from Addis Ababa?
ESFNA’s role in the social and cultural life of the Ethiopian Diaspora is priceless. It is nostalgic, romantic, poetic, sportive, and community oriented. The days of the first week of July are circled on the calendar of most Ethiopians who live in the Diaspora. Politics is a useless lose-lose game without the participation of the masses, and this is absolutely true with ESFNA. ESFNA is just an ensemble of people without the participation of the masses of the Ethiopian Diaspora. True politics always listens to its constituency; otherwise, it is doomed to die. Therefore, instead of reversing the decision of the majority in a politically charged move, ESFNA must listen to the voice of its constituency. If its constituency wants to see Birtukan as a guest of honor in Atlanta, then ESFNA must satisfy its constituency, or disband itself and let the constituency decide on what should be done next. Decisions made in the Diaspora including that of ESFNA’s must not be influenced by millionaires, billionaires, sycophants, or political psychopaths in Addis Ababa.
“Toxic Diaspora” is the nickname given to the often boisterous Diaspora by the TPLF junkies. With no reference to any kind of antidote, yes, indeed, the Diaspora is toxic to the entire TPLF establishment. But, things are dramatically different with ESFNA. There would have been no ESFNA without the Diaspora, but the Diaspora existed and may continue to exist without ESFNA. ESFNA must acknowledge that its existence wholly depends on the will of the Diaspora Ethiopians. Therefore, it should listen to them and stand for their vital interest. ESFNA’s recent decision to reverse its previous decision and rescind Birtukan’s invitation is deplorable and does not go with the Ethiopian Diaspora spirit of fighting for freedom and equality. Finally- we must remember that a police officer who himself is under the influence does not have the moral background or the professional integrity to perform sobriety test.
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