Ethiopian soccer tournament promoting unity leads to division.
(Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) – Afewerki Tadesse of the Maryland Axum waits to take part in Sunday’s opening ceremonies of the AESAOne 2012 soccer tournament at RFK Stadium.
“It was a decision everybody had to make. The ones that went to Dallas, we said good luck,” said Teddy Fekade, 43, a coach for D.C. Ethio Stars. “Those are our brothers. It was as tough for them as it was for us. There is no animosity.”
The same can’t be said for the other side, which accuse the defectors of aligning themselves with Amoudi and, by extension, Zenawi’s government.
“Real Ethiopians do not participate” in the new league, Amanuel said. “Some of the players just take [Amoudi’s] money. We are financed by business owners.”
Protestors who gathered outside RFK on Sunday were even harsher in their criticism of the tournament organizers. They argued that Amoudi’s wealth comes at the expense of Ethiopians and called him a thief and mass murderer. They were behind the billboard in the pickup truck that advertised the tournament as a “blood money festival.”
Protestors have another rally planned for Friday afternoon.
In comments on Web sites for anti-Zenawi publications such as the Ethiopian Review, the protest organizers were calling on Ethiopians here to boycott anyone involved in the RFK tournament, including performers and vendors.
“We are going after the businesses and the singers,” said Kebadu Belachew, one of the protestors. “We will publish their names.”
Terrence Lyons, an expert on Ethiopian politics at George Mason University, said it is “not too far of a stretch” to believe Amoudi’s bankrolling of a soccer federation is part of a larger effort to influence the diaspora. But Amoudi is also not quite as sinister as the protestors make him out to be. Lyons said many of Amoudi’s investments in Ethiopia could be seen as legitimate development.
Asefa of the All Ethiopian Sports Association said the new league is not about taking sides. Instead, he said, it seeks to return to the concept that launched the first one: using sport to bridge differences.
“We don’t want to get involved in politics, religion or [anything] ethnic,” he said. “We want all Ethiopians to participate.”
To make that point, the guests of honor at the RFK tournament are members of the 1962 Ethiopian national soccer team, the country’s only team to win the Africa Cup of Nations. When four of them took their seats Sunday before the opening ceremonies, people applauded and crowded around them to take pictures. But attendance was sparse, with fewer than 100 people on hand that day.
One was a 48-year-old federal worker from Burke named Tesfa. He offered only his first name because, as he put it, “I don’t want to lose friends.”
In Tesfa’s case, the hard line taken by Zenawi’s opponents may have backfired.
After receiving e-mails urging him to boycott the event, he said, he wanted to go.
“I’m just tired of the negativity. For once, stop this nonsense,” he said. “Now we’re supposed to be cheerleaders for one side or the other? Don’t make me a target of vile divisive e-mails. I’m glad I came.”