Each year for the past 24 years the annual Eritrean Sports Festival has played a role in the lives of many young Eritreans. It also teaches participants the principles to win as well as to succeed in making the annual event an inspiration and a memorable one. Sports and culture brings people together based on the fundamental issues of what we are thought as young people so that we can maintain our values as a community of Eritrean immigrants. The Sports Festival is one more addition to other Eritrean holidays that helps us embrace our beautiful culture each summer. What I am about to write is my observation of the 24Th annual Eritrean sports festival that just concluded in the beautiful city of San Diego, California. I write this blog as an observer and a participant and also one who cares deeply for the Eritrean community at large, but also as a sports lover. I start of with a salute for Team Norway whom I have befriended since their first trip here from Europe to join us in this unique gathering.
You see, my brothers and sisters, champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character and so with that I would like to salute TEAM NORWAY for being consistent and an example to all other teams. During their quest to reclaim the title after losing in the championship last year, TEAM NORWAY proved that with sheer determination anything is possible.
There were 18 teams in the tournament this year and three of them were from Europe. Champions TEAM NORWAY, surprise final four TEAM GERMANY (Hadinet) and the young energetic TEAM LONDON who tied two games and won one game despite not advancing to the round of 8. They all added a lot of colour and made the competition very exciting. Their respective communities should be commended for sending them to the U.S to join their brothers and sisters.
TEAM WASHINGTON D.C also using a lot of young players surpassed many people's expectations as they lost in the championship game to Norway. Other highlights of the Sports festival include the great team effort and beautiful flow that TEAM BALTIMORE displayed in their games even though they fell short after a 2-0 loss to Norway. TEAM ALEXANDRIA also came prepared and used a lot of young players and showed that they will always be a team to contend with. In a nutshell the three teams from the metro DC area showed they are always competitive as they all advanced to the next round.
Meanwhile TEAM MINNESOTA (Salina) as well as TEAM SANTA CLARA (Worira) & TEAM SEATTLE remained strong as they rounded the top 8 alongside the two European teams and the three Washington area teams. As far as the youth tournament which started during the middle of the week kudos must go to Team Washington D.C, Minnesota, Houston, & San Diego for participating. Team Washington D.C captured the youth tournaments in different age groups and they made a clear statement that they will be around for years to come. Girls participation was also awesome and two coaches who must be highly commended Coaches Aster and Almaz from Minnesota have shown their ability and desire to enhance the growth of the sports event. They not only coached girls but the boys teams as well. While I do believe that it is a community effort which is inclusive of families to bring a group of youth to the event, it is those special people that make every effort to see that their teams are competitive.
In Basketball Team Washington D.C showed that they never give up until the end as they won in a buzzer beater adding more hardware for the D.C area community. Congratulations to all athletes including track and field participants these are the brief highlights of this years sports competitions.
Now to the Netty gritty of what did not go well in San Diego. As you know this blog's work will be to observe and to show and tell the good the bad as well as to contribute to the ERSFNA which the blogger has been a part of for many years. Is it only me, if I said that participation throughout the week was very weak this year? it did pick up during the weekend. What are the contributing factors? We all should be interactive and answer the question so that we can make it a better event for our youth and future generations.
My personal opinions are as follows,
1. The organizing committee must fully understand and accept that there is a shortage of human resources.
2. Local host committee was weak in planning and coordinating despite the hard work of those few individuals and community members who gave up their time and effort.
3. Not enough Promotion of the event throughout the year. I say for next year's event now is the time to PUMP it up once a city has been designated as host.
4. The Economic tough times may also have contributed.
Now what was so great about San Diego this year? Great location and excellent facilities with the exception of the second soccer field which in my opinion contributed to the mechanisms and outcome of some game results.
Now going to some of the other important issues that must be addressed, the decision making of the game coordinators in regards to rules and regulations should be decided on Sunday and remain that way until the end of the tournament. Thank god we did not have a disaster this year after it was decided that the top 8 teams with the best points would make the second round. Then on Tuesday the format was changed to reflect the 6 division winners and 2 wild card spots. Most everyone attending the meeting on Sunday felt the latter was the way to go to begin with however, on Tuesday it was decided again that the division winners and two wild cards would advance. There were also a couple of important issues that had to be decided by the general assembly which in my opinion could have created problems but they were solved after a meeting. It is important that the organizing committee while volunteers must be very careful not to make wrong decisions that can have a trickle effect and create more headaches for them and other team leaders. It has happened in the past and I can vouch for that.
Call me what you will but I am a strong believer that the main reason we attend this annual event is because we have a vested interest as Eritreans who have a responsibility in making sure that our strong heritage and cultural values remain intact. We all came into our adopted land of the United States as immigrants like the Irish, Germans, Italians, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Latinos, other Africans and on and on, but every Eritrean knows that we have a unique way of thinking because we are deeply attached to our motherland as a result of the most incredible lifetime experience, the struggle for Independence where we have been blessed to see our home country get it's freedom for the right to self determination.
Just look back 10 years ago when our homeland was being invaded, how we all came through to help defend her from aggressors by contributing money and moral support from the sports festival in the very city of San Diego. I bring this up because I would like to propose a very important proposal to the next Sports Federation organizing committee. I would like to suggest THAT WE START EACH MEETING, EVENT & EVENING of the celebrations with "ZIKRI SEMATAT" a "MOMENT OF SILENCE" which has no political opinion boundaries as it is those who gave up their lives that have also allowed us to be who we are as a nation and a people today. I stress that because I did not see this important gesture being displayed in any of our meetings and events that I attended throughout the week. I believe those who feel strongly about it should be given an opportunity to pay due respect as they do in most other Eritrean events that take place throughout the country.
To sum it up, the overall view of this year's event in San Diego should be re-evaluated in every aspect and problems can and should be minimized. It may be difficult to have a perfect week when putting together a huge event such as this but the organizing committee must strive to assemble the best possible event in the future by making sure all of the work is divided and shared among people who have a passion to serve their communities. I can look back at a couple of past tournaments like the one in San Jose in 2004 and Toronto 1997 as well as San Diego 10 years ago where the local communities worked well with the organizing committee to see to it that the things were done to make sure guests are accommodated.
While I do believe we have some of the best Eritrean artists, it would be great if we came up with a better idea to involve more people in the decision making process. As a suggestion I believe that the Entertainment portion of the event can easily be put together if the ERSFNA works closely with an organization such as the Eritrean Music association for the Friday and Saturday event while also partnering with them to allow others singers and entertainers to equally benefit from the week long event. The ERSFNA depends on the Friday Saturday event to make a majority of it's income and so why take a chance by not getting a great mix of artists. It is no easy task but it has been done many times in the past and it works. This year I believe it was slightly weaker and the turn out on Friday was not as expected. It could also be the fact that the event was held at a big arena (San Diego Convention Center). I also would like to emphasize to those individuals who throw parties on Friday and Saturday instead of competing against the organization why not work together to make it an enjoyable experience for all. This particular issue seriously needs discussion and brain storming. In the end we need the ERSFNA to make money in an accountable way and the best way to do that is to collaborate together. This is my advice to the new comers.
On the Fundraising issue the ERSFNA should create a committee to find ways to get funding for the organization while also helping to maintain the 501 C status. This is a serious issue and it can't be done easily by individuals but by a group of people who can take it serious enough to be able to generate income for teams, and especially the youth teams therefor helping families and communities financially. While ERSFNA has laid out the programs and the current President must be highly commended for an outstanding plan in putting together the Youth program, the funding must be researched by those who can do their share to see to it that the ERSFNA continues to grow and is passed on to the next generation with more power than it has at the moment.
Bottom line is the Organizers are all Volunteers and they should be commended however I also believe that communication is very important and during the week of the event when many things are on your mind it is difficult to accomplish a lot of the work which then can create problems and complaints from Teams, fans and those who travel long ways to be a part of the event. So as volunteers they should always keep in mind that there is a responsibility that comes with making decisions and attempt to be as fair as possible to all involved parties.
I also would like to add that this year's guest of honor who happened to be living in San Diego was an Eritrean legendary goal keeper who made his name a house hold nick name for goal keepers. Gila Michael Mariano was honored at the closing ceremony as he awarded all the winners their respective prizes. For more on Gila's achievements the San Diego host committee had prepared a program Magazine with an answer and question session. He was a delight to see at this year's event and we hope to continue to see more Eritrean national athletes be honored at this annual sporting events for Eritreans. Hope we can find out officially where the next tournament will be very soon so that people can start getting ready, until then have a great year.
Eri-International sports blog will continue to write about Sports related issues that deals with Eritrea and Eritrean-Americans while also helping to enhance the knowledge of all readers.
We now leave you with the sights of the 24Th, annual Eritrean Sports festival that concluded last week in the beautiful city of San Diego. Just click on the following link for pictures.
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