The trending topic of the past week was a football match between Welwalo Adigrat and Mekelakeya where a referee was beaten up by players. People forgot the most distressing part. At a government level, the grassroots reach to young people is through sports.
The more significant issue at hand, beyond the unethical act, is how invested we are in outreach programs such as sports. I assume in the minds of the people that adopted this approach; it was a clever way to reach young people. Even with good intentions, the implementation of the program was not well done.
As a society, we need to recognise what has led these young men to the place that they are in now. It is the void in accountability that has made violence a reasonable way to work through emotions.
Training in sports is not just about physical preparedness. The reason that government policy and lower government agencies and non-governmental bodies invest as much in sports is that these activities can reach the youth most efficiently. But this can only take hold if done with the level of importance that is necessary. Shaping the youth of our country is an important task we cannot afford to ignore. The youth makes or breaks the future of our nation.
These young men, getting on one of the most important spaces for football and inciting violence, is a reflection of what we, as a society have done to get them there. It is the actions we have excused that has pushed them to where they are.
On the Ethiopian Broadcasting Service (EBS) program called Yebeteseb Chewata that was run during the Easter holiday, the host asks young participants if they like football. Wide-eyed with excitement, they all answer “yes”, eager to share which team they support.
Then the host asks if any of them had been to a stadium to catch a game, to which a young boy retorts, “I don’t want to get hit with a stone”.
The response is met with roaring laughter.
It is no laughing matter. The violence recently seen on the ground is nothing new, whether players or fans commit it. These incidents are talked about and forgotten too quickly.
When sports players are fighting on fields, it is a reflection of and a decline in moral responsibility. And this is not to mention the hours of faulty mentorship they have received. Young people learn life skills from sports but only when someone is making the necessary effort to instil all that the sport can teach.
In using sports to teach life skills, there are different ways we can assess to make a difference. Coaches and trainers should always be planning activities and looking through what values are being transmitted.
In a community project where I used to volunteer, we would refer to them as level one and level two skills. Level one skills were technical abilities that the sports would be teaching, such as kicking, passing, running and all the other physical activities. What we called level two skills were the ones crucial for emotional development such as leadership, respectfulness, team effort and listening.
Never-mind that compared to most other countries, football is still an undeveloped sport. All we have at this current time is an undisciplined and unprofessional group of young men. It is heartbreaking in that bad apples give a bad name to the nation’s football league, while at the same time disrespecting those that love the sport and the kids in our neighbourhoods who spend their days playing in the dirt.
The direction into which the sport is headed now will give way to a new generation of young men that believe what they have seen is excusable.
A friend commented, “we should get rid of football, it brings violence,” suggesting that there are too many things we have to focus on as a country.
I adamantly disagree. I remember my grandmother scolding us for throwing away something that just needed fixing. We do not have a tradition of throwing away; we never had the luxury. Many households have a couch, TV, refrigerator, cloth iron and dining table older than all the children living there.
Why have we become reluctant to adapt that mentality now?
Football is not just a sport but a national phenomenon that needs to be tapped into. We have put our energy behind it, and regardless of the motivation, we have an opportunity to reach youth and make a positive influence in the future, we should not take that responsibility lightly. Accountability lays with each of us.
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