Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Eritrea: Still waiting for the big world cup day but CECAFA 2011 here we come.

     OK! May some of us might be a bit ambitious about our young Red Sea boys making it to the next round of the world cup qualifying but it did not happen as an up and coming Rwanda team beat Eritrea at Amahoro stadium in Kigali by the score of 3-1. Eritrean players should pick their head up and get ready for what will be another great event taking place in Tanzania starting on November 24th, 2011.  In order to achieve the goals of getting to the African nations cup and a crack at the 2018 world cup in Russia, Eritrea must start building today. All players and fans as well as the Eritrean soccer federation must make it a national campaign to see to it that Eritrean soccer players are well maintained and given the opportunity to shine at the highest levels.  One thing we all as Eritrean nationals learned from the past couple of years is that our athletes have been used for political gain. It was not cool to see the mention of soccer players escaping to other countries to defame Eritrea as was indicated on Wiki leaks.  “Many dusty streets in Asmara are filled with urchins kicking an old sock stuffed with rags back and forth between goals made of piled stones,” the cable said. It went on to indicate that Eritreans are passionate about the game at the highest levels. Wouldn't you be if your country has always been so good at the game producing outstanding talent but never to make it to the international soccer scene due to the many political distractions caused by outsiders?

     History clearly indicates that the passion of the game derives from the great players of the country who happen to be the founders of not Eritrean soccer alone but African soccer in general. However due to the fact that this country of Eritrea was subjugated and occupied by force, the potential of the Eritrean soccer players never really materialized. Enter the 1990's when Eritrea for a short time enjoyed it's moment to shine.  It was just starting to grow the seed of the future when in 1994 a group of youngsters went to the Scandinavian countries to compete in the Norway, Dana, and Europe's top youth cup the Gothia Cup in Sweden. The Eritrean teams made us all proud and by now could have made some headlines individually or as a team. Even an internationally acclaimed player spoke highly of them as Ronaldinho of Brazil was a participant at the same event. However another chapter in the countries short term peace was once again distracted as a war was waged on the entire nation including the soccer program I may add as many of the talent pool had to defend their nation. As a result the process of restructuring the national program has become a bit difficult. In an internet discussion group some of us were discussing why players leave and could it be for selfish reasons? 
(Names have been omitted to keep the discussion private) But indeed it is great to see Eritreans discuss this sports matter in an open forum)
One person wrote
"Can we just stop walking on EGGSHELLS and call this for what it is? A bunch of selfish ambitious obnoxious soccer players that don't have a problem embarrassing or throwing their country under the bus for their own gain.  Thank you."

Another replied to the writer above,
"before accusing these youngsters of throwing their country under the bus for their own gain, we need to ask a qeustion if the Eritrean Soccer Federation is doing its best to retain young talent or if it has created some type of systemic incentives to retain their passion for sport as well their passion for the country.  Remember, a young MIND is a Dreamer and also Adventurer but it is also Vulnerable.  The Federation and the Government must pay close attention to these sort of talent-drain instead of simply describing in one sentence saying, "This problem is not Eritrean only, this is a problem of African youths all over the world.“

Like most youth in Africa and Eritrea who in my opinion have an idea that immigration would bring better opportunities, for some it may be the right thing to do but based on many experiences for most it has been a tough battle to make it in professional athletics as it is in regular life.  The New York times wrote an article on the Eritrean soccer players travels to Rwanda for the world cup qualifications titled, "Where soccer has been a one-way ticket out" and to me this indicates that the interest of this media coverage by one of the world's leading papers is motivated by what has happened in the past couple of years. The negativity of the stories that filled headlines everywhere indicating that Eritrea was this horrible place that treated it's people bad and a bunch of other lies were the motivations for past articles and this article is a follow up to that. If this publication or for that matter any other publication that wants to tear apart the Eritrean people and govt. had any decency they would have written about the just ended CYCLING race for the continent of Africa in which Eritrea shined as host and participant. Better yet forget the sports headlines for a moment the New York times had a story on it's step yard when 8,000 Eritreans flocked from all over the USA to meet and greet their President in September 2011 but not a single story indicating what took place. Why? Because Eritrea and it's people were the biggest stars sports or not on that day. 

     In any case while the loss to Rwanda will keep Eritrea out of the next world cup in Brazil, Eritrea has a chance to shine in the adult version of the CECAFA cup taking place later this month in Tanzania. Eritrean players have a chance to redeem themselves and get their first big trophy in soccer as they face 11 other teams with Malawi being the only guest team in this big event. Eritrea will be in Group C along side Sudan, Kenya and Malawi. Meanwhile Group A will have Tanzania, Rwanda, Djibouti and Ethiopia, while Group B will have Uganda, Burundi, Zanzibar and Somalia. Most of Eritrea's players are from the CECAFA under 20 championships that made it to the finals in Asmara last year and with a great future ahead of them, I hope to see them put Eritrea on the right path to success. Meanwhile may be they can learn a little from Coach Negash Teklit who played for the first Eritrean team to play in CECAFA in 1994 and is currently setting a positive example of trying to maintain a strong National team as a coach despite many obstacles.

Good Luck to Eritrea and like everything else in the nation building process the Eritrean national soccer team will one day reap the benefits and will make the country proud.

Mike Seium
Eri-International sports

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eritrea: World Cup soccer Qualifying Starts and it must be taken seriously.

     The importance of the game of soccer for most nations is one of a serious matter. Even though we don't expect Eritrea to make it to the world cup in the very near future, I want to be proven wrong as the qualifying round for the 2014 world cup in Brazil starts this week in Asmara for the Red Sea Camels. Our soccer players have been in the headlines for political reasons and unnecessary propaganda that has caused so much grief to Eritreans in general. The only two players from the last defecting group of players who have made their way to the land down under where Eritrean player Gol Gol Mebrehatu has been playing in are still in the process of getting acclimated to the much bigger league than the Eritrean first division. In any case my point is if our soccer players in Eritrea get the proper education and understanding that by leaving their national team they gain nothing and their lives may even be worse. They would benefit more if they stayed and represented their flag and in the process make headlines like they did during the CECAFA cup. Starting out small and moving up to competing against some of the best in Africa is in my opinion a better option than leaving and defecting to only become an embarassment to the very country that gives them an opportunity to shine on the soccer field. As the results have indicated so far other than the few handful players who may have gotten opportunities to play in few places, many players have not been able to make college teams here in the USA despite their ability to perform at high levels. Why? Because mentally they are not ready and the way of life here or anywhere else for an Eritrean athlete is not what they expected when they decided to leave.

      "I regret what I have done" said one unnamed player when he realized that what he expected here was totally worse than what he had back in Eritrea. He went on to add, " I can't even play one day of the week since I have been here, I am working around the clock for very low wages which end up paying my bills, after I send a little money to help my family back home" He added. I am writing this after a long time because I am one of those strong believers that Eritrea can shine as a soccer country. It has a rich tradition and many players have paid a huge price in order for our country to wave it's flag. I hope and pray that we don't become the laughing stock of the world. It begins at home where our athletes must be nurtured but must commit themselves to higher standards.
     During this week where the African Cycling championships are taking place, I ask our national soccer team to pay a close attention and see how beautiful it is to represent Eritrea and also shine in the international sports arena. I think our national soccer team can do the same. Just look no further than our runners including Zeresenay Tadese who has become a legend throughout the world. You the soccer players can do the same. Stay strong and let's try to surprise the world this week as Eritrea takes on Rwanda in Asmara with the sporting atmosphere strong during the African cycling championships celebrations in Asmara. On Friday November 11th, 2011 in Asmara's Ciciero stadium Rwanda will take on Eritrea. The second leg of the game will be played in Kigali on November 15th, 2011. The winner will join a tough group H over two legs between the three remaining countries of Algeria, Benin and Mali. While getting to the next round may be difficult, I strongly believe that Eritrea plays strong at home and if the strategy of holding these teams to very close game away becomes a system the Red Sea camels might have a small window of opportunity to make some head lines, YES! positive headlines.

Let's go get them and I think the entire country and diaspora should rally around them win or lose.

Mike Seium
for Eri-Internationalsports blog

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Prefontaine Classic: World Record Holder Zeresenay Tadesse comes to the USA.

     As the celebrations for Eritrea's 20 years of independence continue throughout the summer, the work of Eritrean athletes at the international stage especially in running continues. This weekend alone three Eritrean runners Eshak Abraham, Solomon Meherteab and Oqubit Berhane all had excellent results in three different events. Eshak Abraham who was making his debut at the Comacina Race in Italy won the race as an underdog while Solomon Meherteab took second place at the 10K London Bupa classic, meanwhile Oqubit Berhane sporting his Eritrean national color jersey won the Swiss half Marathon race with a time of 1 hour and 16 minutes.  The story of Eritrea's running success is something to be proud of as the sport is somewhat new for this northeast African nation that makes Cycling and soccer it's number one sport. 

     The successful campaign for the sport of running in Eritrea which started in the early 2000 by an organization known as EAAA(Eritrean American Athletics Association) and the Eritrean Athletics federation has produced some great athletes. While Meb Kiflezghi continues to be the best American long distance runner at the moment since Steve Prefontaine, Frank Shorter, and Alberto Salazar, the world record holder in the Half Marathon Zeresenay Tadesse is the biggest name athlete to come out of Eritrea. Zeresenay a humble and wise human being won the bronze medal in the 10,000 meter in Athens in his first debut at the Olympics while Meb too silver in the marathon representing the USA. 

     Meanwhile the heart warming story of Steve Prefontaine an American icon of the sport in the 1970's is something that touches the human spirit. You see this young man was to the sport of running what Michael Jordan was to the sport of basketball. Prefontaine broke all kinds of records and was an international sports hero for many athletes. In his home state of Oregon he became a legend and today the town of Eugene home to the University of Oregon serves as running and athletics international center. Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident on May 30th, 1975 at the very young and tender age of 24 years. His legacy as a running legend however continues to this date and in his home state of Oregon each year since his death a track and field event known as the PREFONTAINE CLASSIC takes place.

     In what will be an awesome competition of the best runners in the world on Friday June 3rd, 2011 at this years portion of the Prefontaine Classic many top notch long distance runners from Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries will be competing along side of Eritrea's top runners. Zeresenay Tadesse along with brother Kidane Tadesse and Teklemariam Medhin will be going at it in the 10,000 meter run. As in the Athens Olympics the Ethiopian squad will be lead by Sileshi Sihne and a few more new runners, while the Kenyans will be lead by John Cheriyuot and Danile Salel after the very sad death last week of Sam Wanjiru. Wanjiru was probably the best representative of the new generation runners for Kenya and the actual sport of running alongside Zeresenay and others. May he rest in peace.
     This event will be televised on NBC sports and while NBC will air Saturday's activities Live, we will have to wait and see how the 10,000 meters event will fare on Friday evening. The meet which takes place in Hayward near Eugene Oregon is open to the public and those who live nearby can go and see the Eritrean contingent. The 10,000 meter begins at 8:50 PM in the evening. Mean while here is a list of the competition field,

10,000 METERS  
Zersenay Tedese (Eritrea)
Sileshe Sihine (Ethiopia)
Imane Merga (Ethiopia)
Aylele Abshero (Ethiopia)
Abebe Dinkesa (Ethiopia)
Abera Kuma (Ethiopia)
Daniel Salel (Kenya)
Lucas Rotich (Kenya)
Teklemariam Mehdin (Eritrea)
Kidane Tadesse (Eritrea)
John Kemboi Cheruyiot (Kenya)
Shawn Forrest (Australia)
Reid Coolsaet (Canada)
Leonard Komon (Kenya)
Matthew Kisorio (Kenya)
Paul Tanui (Kenyan)
Ali Mahboob (Bahrain)
Josphat Bett (Kenya)
Mohammad Ali Aboosh (Ethiopia)
Micah Kogo (Kenya)
Moses Masai (Kenya)
Joseph Ebuya (Kenya)
Mike Kigen (Kenya)
Dennis Masai (Kenya)
Abdi Abdirahman
Dejene Gebremeskel (Ethiopia)

For more information and schedule just click on the following website link for the Prefontaine Classic   

Welcome to the USA Zeresenay Tadesse, Kidane Tadesse and Teklemariam Medhin and good luck. Meanwhile to the rest of Eritrean runners who are pouring in the awards congratulations! May the 2011 London Olympics bring gold, silver and bronze for Eritrea. To quote the runner whose name this event is named after Steve Prefontaine "A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest, I run to see who has the most guts" and we shall wait and see who has the most guts.

For Eri-International sports
Mike Seium