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Cheering On for World Cup 2018

Ermias, a journalist, gives an insight from an Eritrean point of view

Probably the only time the international community rejoices together in the buoyant spirit of football is during the World Cup.

This year’s long awaited international tournament has gathered people from around the world in Russia. Ermias Ghebreleul is an Eritrean sports journalist and a news anchor. His column on the daily Tigrigna newspaper Haddas Eritrea has a wide readership. He has been giving reviews of the World Cup on his column as well live on TV. We speak to him today in a bid to portray the Eritrean viewership of World Cup 2018.


  • Thank you for your time, Ermias. It is time for the World Cup!

It is! And as expected the global spirit is grand this round too. The World Cup is the biggest football tournament where countries show off talents and preparations of four years to the delight of football fans. Therefore, it is only natural that the excitements of the international community grow during this international sport gala.

  • Before we go in to the details, what is football like in Eritrea? Why is it that the Eritrean community is fond of football?

Speaking in terms of infrastructure, Eritrea is the first country in Africa that built stadiums. Campo Cicero is an example. Generally speaking, football in Eritrea was introduced during the Italian colonization and the people embraced it as their own. Since then, clubs where formed and professional footballers started making big names for themselves. Many local footballers started being nicknamed after international football stars. For example, the legend of football, striker, Teklezghi of club Hamsien, was better known by the ‘Eritrean Garinccha’ of Brazil. At that time football was the number one sport in Eritrea. Later on, under the Ethiopian occupation, the biggest clubs were from Eritrea. As a matter of fact, on the third Cup of Nations, the Ethiopian national team had nine Eritrean players. Therefore, we can easily understand that the origins of Eritrean football are deep rooted. On the note, I’d like to add that football was not limited to Asmara but it was also popular in other cities of the country such as Keren, Massawa, Dekemhare and Ghindae. The legacy still exists. Before the Ethiopian offensive in 1997, then, too, football was massive. Stadiums were packed and local clubs were flourishing. Within its ups and downs, Eritrean football is still somehow surviving. That being said, now, you can understand how and why the Eritrean community is fond of the sport be it for local clubs, international or national teams.

  • So it is only natural that the Eritrean people go crazy during the World Cup season. What is your stand point as a journalist on this aspect?

Yes of course. However, it is an international phenomenon. In my own words, World Cup is an international football festival. It is the only time in which countries and societies focus on national teams playing against each other. Expecting such rare occasion to witness the preparations and efforts that national teams invest for this occasion added by the showcase of star players and their unique talents makes the event more thrilling and worth a wait of four years. As such, for people all over the world, in general, and of Eritrea as well, to be fanatical about World Cup is natural.

  • I strongly believe that with every World Cup the viewership amongst the Eritrean community grows like wise. Bars are packed, cinema halls are in the same situation almost throughout the whole month and now they’re showing World Cup in massive screens in the squares of Asmara. The number of people in these places is incredible. What is it really? I believe football –not only for World Cup but also for Priemer League, Serie A and la Liga, has become part of the present culture.

You are right; it has evolved. Globalization, with the aid of technology, has great role in the formation of ‘football enthusiasm’ as we know it in Asmara and Eritrea in general. We are talking about big scale viewership. To that end service providers have worked hard in accommodating the taste bud of the hundreds of thousands of Eritrea’s football fans. Back in the days, not many households had television sets so comparing the viewership of World Cup of yesteryears to what it is now is not fair. The introduction of television in almost every house hold in the 1990s increased viewership. Nowadays technology has made the network of information accessible in countless ways. And so, Eritrean enthusiasts cannot possibly miss anything.

Like you said, World Cup and almost all of the big football tournaments are played in every corner of Asmara and other Eritrean cities. People have developed the habit of stepping out of their homes for big matches and go to cinemas or bars and be part of the game by watching with fellow supporters. And if I am to put a focus on World Cup, it is great to see such dynamism with crowds gathering in front of big screens.

The merit goes to globalization, of course, but this also shows that the awareness and the knowledge of the game has grown amongst the people. The other major component to the growth of football viewership is the long standing Eritrean history of football. Football, in its many aspects, has been part of the Eritrean people for more than a century. Therefore, in time the prospect of Eritreans on football gradually evolved to be scientific rather than layman knowledge. In few words these are the points that nourished the enthusiasm of football within the Eritrean community.

  • You have had your hands full reporting and analyzing World Cup both on printed press and broadcast media. How does it make you feel?

It is truly a responsibility that I value greatly. As people tune in to follow the World Cup, information becomes one of the tools. Moreover, as World Cup is a great event, for me to be able to give additional information beyond what people see live on TV in my country’s language makes me feel mentally satisfied. As I previously said, nowadays, information is everywhere. People can watch the game whenever and however they desire. So my job is to give supportive information to what people watch.

  • Can you please explain the technicality of your job as a sports journalist? Based on your experience, what is the difference of sport journalism between printed press and broadcast media?

Currently I am part of the sport pundit analyzing matches of World Cup while at the same time I am keeping up with my column in Haddas Eritrea. There is great difference between broadcast and print information, of course. When we’re live on TV we directly analyze the matches bringing subjects relevant to the game and performances of the players. We look at the technicalities of the match while the game goes on. We also analyze the formation of the players in the team, the team’s recent situation and so on. That is the TV and radio mechanism.

For the newspaper we focus on prolonged analyses. The newspaper needs time to actually be printed and distributed. So in the column I refrain from doing direct analysis. Rather, I give additional information, game previews, team news in connection with the teams’ background, an insight on a team’s last game and ‘off the field news’ as people are highly interested in the news of the players outside the game. So, the profession is wide and the approaches are equally abundant.

  • Before we end, is there anything you want to add? And also, World Cup 2018, is almost past half season so…

It has been a great season. The introduction of VAR (video assisted referee) has contributed to the accuracy of the tournament. It truly has been an important introduction. World Cup 2018 has been stimulated by the enthusiast of millions of fans worldwide. One of the reasons was the competition between teams. It was truly a season in which big teams were confronted by rather small ones. It is almost half way to the end, so I wish viewers and football fans a good time. Thank you!

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