Training camps, female officials and living with Robert Mugabe

Greetings once again from sunny Africa! Still quiet here except for a mooted friendly game early in March, and perhaps an earlier one if I hold my breath and hope for the best.

I’ve been spending my time formulating a training camp due to begin this week with a shadow or “B” squad consisting of players I’ve not worked with before, but who have impressed in the games I’ve seen this season. It will just be nice to be out on the training field again.

As usual, I’ve been keeping abreast of events back home where I believe there’s been a bit of a storm regarding sexism in football, costing Sky Sports' Andy Gray and Richard Keys their jobs.

Well, far be it from me to add too much to the column inch tally as it threatens to become yesterday’s news, but all I can say is that here in the Ethiopian Premier League - where the standard of refereeing is improving, but has some way to go yet - I’m well accustomed to seeing women running the line AND refereeing matches. And for what its worth, they’re certainly no worse than the men.

In fact, having just come back from a passionately supported and enthralling match between the Ethiopian women’s national team and their counterparts from Congo, this seems a particularly bad time to still be stuck in the Dark Ages.


Gray & Keys' stint covering the Ethiopian Premier League was short lived...

Getting to and from the game was no straightforward exercise, mind. The African Union summit is taking place here in Addis, and most of the delegates and heads of state are staying here at my hotel!

Now, security is always an issue around the summit, but factor in some restlessness in Tunisia and Egypt, up the road, and it seems tensions are higher than usual, with all roads around the hotel blocked and populated with men in uniform baring guns (Note to self: ALWAYS remember to say “hello” and “good morning” to any man you pass with a gun!).

I’m not averse to walking the 15 minutes to the stadium rather than rely on my ubiquitous driver, Wondowson, but seeing men in suits with walkie talkies and conspicuous bulges under their jackets patrolling the corridor outside your bedroom is a little disconcerting.

Put it this way, I’m a little weary of ordering room service right now! It doesn’t help when it’s the small matter of one Mr R Mugabe staying in the room opposite!

I haven’t actually seen him yet - our paths haven’t crossed on account of him apparently confiscating some farms or something during the day, whilst I busy myself with my nine-to-five desk job at the Federation.


"Which b*stard stole my free newspaper...?"

It’s been a busy week at the Federation with some friendly faces from England to host. Tim Vine from the Premier League has been over and, together with the British Council here, is trying to roll out a grassroots programme of football development, badly needed here.

In fact, the technical ability of the players here never ceases to amaze me (sorry Andy and Richard, but the women also showed it in abundance), given the lack of even a single academy here.

Elsewhere on the continent, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana et al have had them in place for some time now and in the latter case particularly, have reaped the benefits with a fine crop of young players.

The Premier Skills programme isn’t primarily aimed at so-called elite level football, but nonetheless would be a welcome first step in developing the football infrastructure here.

Hang on though, I did here it would be targeted to girls as well as boys, in the year 2011 as well! Oh dear, “the world’s gone mad!”

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