Football camp to train Olympic athletes in line with embattled Ethiopian military

More than 100 Olympians and officials in Ethiopia have traveled to the war-torn country for an initiative that will enlist the nation’s athletes to join the military.

Amid a bloody and increasingly violent conflict, which has already claimed over 2,000 lives and displaced nearly 100,000 others, the Ethiopian Olympic Committee opened the Young Soldiers football camp over the weekend, the Guardian reports. The initiative is named after Tesfaye Araya, the country’s biggest military star, who was killed by rebels in January.

“We want to tell our boys that no matter what happens, be brave, remain strong, believe that you are defending Ethiopia,” Debbe Dawit, the president of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee, told the Guardian. “Don’t let any of these attacks and everything that will happen in the field of war affect you.”

The initative comes just days after Abiy Ahmed became the first Ethiopian prime minister to visit war-torn South Sudan. The visit sparked protest, with members of South Sudan’s national security service reportedly kicking activists from Amnesty International out of the meeting.

The president also announced that he will disband the country’s military and open a path to peace with neighboring Eritrea, a decision cheered by Sudan and Djibouti as a chance to end their long-standing disputes with the neighboring country.

[email protected] @NBCOlympics and @OlympusatUSA announce we will host @Ethiopian_OlympicCrew camp this weekend to #ProtectOurCountry by training together to join @Ethiopian_DefenseForce! #Congrats @AEttahbeLysekkah for winning an Olympic gold medal!! #TeamEritrea #TeamEthiopia — Olympic Sunshine (@OlympicSunshine) September 15, 2018

Those speaking at the football camp on Sunday, including Canadian runner Sebastian Coe, who currently holds the Association of National Olympic Committees’ presidency, stressed the importance of the idea.

“It’s nothing short of remarkable that what has really started with one man, one mission and one idea can continue and even grow like this,” Coe said. “It’s exciting times in our friendship, exciting times in our security, and we hope that more and more of our military will come here to contribute so that this modern Ethiopia is, not simply a modern African country, but a modern African country in the 21st century.”

One lucky player, Edwin, who is currently 15, hopes to pick up a football during the camp and pursue a career in the army.

“I am 15-years-old now and my dream is to become a military officer,” Edwin explained. “I’m interested in sports and football is a good way to become a soldier.”

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