Biggest Surprises and Sportsmanship
Despite record heat waves during the opening days of the tournament, the games were generally well attended. The early elimination of many beloved teams including the defending champs made the results surprising and the games entertaining.
The teams most quickly eliminated were Dire Dawa and Utaa Waayyuu (UW), both from Minnesota. Dire Dawa’s fate hung in balance the minute they lost game one to rival Oromo United (OU). The tie in game two only made their nightmare worse. The performance of the other two teams in the division in game two (a tie between 10,000 Lakes and OU) had Dire all but preparing to leave in the first round. They won game three after playing a very professional and entertaining game against Bilisummaa. But it was a little too late.
Another big surprise was UW’s controversial elimination. After comfortably winning game one against Madda Walaabu and tying game 2 with 11 Stars, UW was in good standing, ready to advance. But game three brought them the unexpected surprise along with some controversy.
In very close game, minutes before the stoppage time, 11 Stars scored the game winning goal. Desperate and out of time, UW was every bitt attempting to score . Halfway through the field lay an injured 11 Stars player. Concerned that the opposing team was wasting time, UW’s captain asked the officials to sub for the injured player and continue the game. Sub they did.
When UW had the last shot at the goal, the injured player from 11 Stars who was replaced because of injury not only entered the field as the 12th person but also played a major role in defending what could have been the much needed goal. UW’s players and officials roared in protest at the sight of 12 men on the field as the referee looked at his watch and blew the final whistle. Attempts were made to mitigate the situation by asking the federation to disqualify the game, but to no avail.
By mid-week, only Madda Walaabu, OU, OU Gold, Finfinne, Risaa,Utaa Waayyuu , Oromia 11 Stars, and 10,000 Lakes (TTL) made it to the semi-finals. Of that list; OU, MW, Oromia 11 Stars, and TTL went to the finals. Judging from attendance and the crowd’s enthusiasm, TTL was by far the favorite team of the 2011 Oromo soccer tournament. Their players, young but athletic, kept the audience on their feet every time they played. I talked to many at the conclusion of the final game who said despite the loss, TTL’s Kassim Tilmo should have been the MVP.
The final game between Oromia 11 Stars and TTL did not escape the officiating controversy. The referee validated a controversial goal by 11 Stars in the first half. Many in the arena including 11 Stars’ own supporters swore it was a handball. For the remainder of the championship game, TTL repeatedly tried to stroke the net but 11 Stars’ defense and goalie knew what was at the stake and kept the frustrated TTL-ers at bay. When the final whistle was heard, 11 Stars players and fans took over the field in jubilation. Disappointed TTL players sobbed while others made their way to the exit.
Oromia 11 Stars, the 2011 OSFNA champions, won several awards as well; Best Goalie, Most Disciplined Coach, MVP, and Service Award for the coach’s mom who was present at the bench throughout the week, and according to the team, at every practice. OSFNA also gave awards to several others who have contributed to the growth and betterment of the federation. Among many others, M/Sani of Toronto, Fuade, Dr. Negash, Barisa Argo, Barisa’s mom, and Mohamed of OU (coach) were given leadership awards.
One remarkable observation that deserves a qualified mention is the players’ discipline and sportsmanship. At the conclusion of every game, both the winning and losing team players lined up across the field hugging and embracing in remarkable sportsmanship camaraderie. At a time when Oromo politics is in disarray and posing a grave threat to the social fabric of the community, the brotherly spirit and sportsmanship was a response to Dr. Ali Birraa’s timeless advice: “Isportiin Jalaalaa!”
Absent from this year’s Oromo Week was the Run 4 Oromia race. Run 4 Oromia, funded by the Oliqaa foundation, is an annual 5K and 10K race around Lake Nokomis. Over the past four years, the race was organized with the aim of raising awareness about Oromo people and Oromia. One oft repeated prompts at the race is the fact that the long distance runners that put Ethiopia on the map are from Oromia. Attendance and marketing of the race dwindled over the years. But the silent and total disappearance of the event is yet another sports surprise of the Oromo Week.
During the week, many were reunited, or met for the first time, and wept tears of joy. I am sure that someone had found his or her future spouse. There were very few incidents of fights, compared to previous years. Oromummaa was the only visible identity at the field and other events. Tolerance, an Oromo virtue by nature, was also in display. In all, the North American Oromo Festival, proclaimed Oromo Week in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, was once again a successful gathering.
Soccer Tournament in Pictures: