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The new Tigrai Mekelle stadium
The new stadium in Mekelle, Tigrai

My first visit to the new Mekelle Stadium in Tigrai

By Tesfai Hailu
Tigrai Online, Feb. 12, 2018

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Had the opportunity to watch the football match between Mekelle City and Bunna (Coffee) teams that took place on Sat. Feb. 10 at the new stadium in Mekelle. And I regret to say that the experience was far from enjoyable in almost all aspects, and here is why.

The Stadium

  1. A visiting friend from England – who also was at the stadium for the first time – and I were shocked to see how the stadium is far from finished. Once we passed the security check, the compound was full of rocks, piled up dust, debris and all kinds of construction waste and dirt. This is inexcusable as the unwanted stuff can easily be removed. All it needs is a thinking mind and a commitment to public duty.
  2. The gates and stairs that lead to the seating area are still full of wooden poles aimed to support unfinished construction work, thus stadium-goers have to carefully watch their head (many of the poles have nails on them). And if – God forbid – a stampede occurs, the damage would be devastating. How could such an obvious safety hazard be ignored? And who is going to be held accountable if grievous bodily harm or, worse, loss of life occurs due to gross negligence with palpable violation of legal duty to the safety of sport fans who paid their fees to be there?
  3. When my friend and I tried to bring in bottled plastic water, we were told that it’s not allowed for safety reasons, which we understood, in fact, appreciated the safety measures taken. However, once inside the stadium, it was outrageous to see small stones and rubles (which evidently are more harmful than a plastic bottle) on the stairs and around the seating. Why can’t these be disposed of?
  4. Security was present outside the stadium, but nowhere to be seen in the area where we sat. As a result, while there were more than adequate seats to accommodate everyone, there were some inconsiderate spectators who chose to stand at the very front, thereby obstructing the view of the vast majority who appropriately took their seats. There also was unnecessary movement of people from one end to the other as well as rowdiness by handful spoilers who could easily have been handled by unarmed security staff.

The Game

It really was very disappointing for me to watch a game that didn’t live up to its “premier league” status. Neither team played a good football. The players lacked speed, proper possession and passing of the ball. There hardly was any strong attack or a serious attempt to score a goal, thus the game was unexciting and the goalless result was certainly dismaying.

Instead, the match was full of wasted ball, endless foul as well as real and seemingly fake injuries that nearly all required the rushing of medical staff and stretcher bearers into the field. Misconduct within the field and, to a lesser degree, from team benches – which has become fashionable in Ethiopian football – was also in action.

At the risk of being branded as “ያለፈው ሥርዓት ናፋቂ” (one who lives in the past), got to say that I had seen better football during my youth when ከፍተኛ 1 & ከፍተኛ 2 played against each other at መቐለ ባሎኒ (old Mekelle Stadium). And if the current has any similarity with the good old games played in Mekelle, it’s that some of the players reminded me of the ነበልባል (military team) players who were more interested in striking an opponent than kicking a ball.

Lastly, if there’s one positive thing I witnessed, it’s the fact that Bunna fans – although small in number – made their presence in the city felt, wearing their distinct brown color jerseys. They were seen singing and dancing every step of the way from the city center at Romanat; south to Abraha Castle Square; turning west to the Martyr’s Monument area, and then into their stadium destination. Sure enough, it was uplifting to see Buna fans feeling absolutely free to publicly display their love and admiration for their team as they rightfully should.

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TOL Comment:

Further, friends told me that Saturday night (after the match was over) – while night clubs were understandably dominated by pro Mekelle songs such as መቐለ ሽኮር፣ ለለ ጋንታ መቐለ፣ ጨለ መቐለ (ሁሁሃ) – DJs at such clubs as Awash, Oldies and Samples – aware of their new visitors’ presence in their respective clubs –apparently played Buna Football Club’s song አሄ ሜሳሳቦ ቡና ቡና አደገኛ song at intervals to the pleasure of Bunna fans who couldn’t stop dancing to the tune.  

It’s unfortunate that such positive scenes have to come across as a fresh of breath air and eyewitness newsworthy when, in fact, this is how things should always be. Alas, that hasn’t been the case lately in the conflict-ridden country of ours wherein football is being used as political weapon for division and strife as supposed to the intended sportsmanship.

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Yet, if people could realize the value of conducting peaceful games not only in terms of healthy social relations between people, but also economic benefits. Indeed, sport matches generate income for the transportation, service and retail sectors which ultimately means supporting individuals, families and communities. Players and fans travel from near and far places for the game; hotels become full; restaurants and bars become busy; sporting outfits and memorabilia sell like hot cakes; temporary street work such as for painting fans’ faces as well as selling food and beverages around and inside the stadium are created.

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