Friday, November 21, 2008

Gens Una Sumus?

Gens Una Sumus. But perhaps only for those who can afford it.

The other night, I was on my way to the Rathaus, where FIDE and the Dresden organisers are feeding the players, to examine the food conditions as well as, maybe, grab a free feed. Not knowing the exact direction, I approached the men's team from Ethiopia, who happened to be on the same tram as I was. Lucky for me, they were en route to the same location.

The Ethiopian captain, Kebadu Belachew, is a friendly fellow who readily struck up a conversation. Now a resident of the United States, and working there as a network engineer, Kebadu is eloquent, speaking with a particularly charming accent that is at once hospitable and passionate. In our conversation he spoke most passionately about the trials that his team had gone through just to reach the Olympiad.

Like a number of African countries, team Ethiopia faced serious problems on two main fronts - money and visa. At one point they were even handed an accommodation bill for €15,0000 as a result, Kebadu admits, of their own late registration.

"Fifteen thousand euros would save thousands of people's lives in Ethiopia. Definitely the country doesn't have that kind of money", he told me over dinner. Fortunately for Kebadu and his team, the Dresden city mayor stepped in and agreed that the huge accommodation bill be waived.

Then there were the visa problems. On the first attempt, the Ethiopians were point blank simply refused entry visas by the German consular office in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. It was days before some compromised was reached and this came in the form of a letter of guarantee from the event organisers which was duly provided. Still, there was one more problem: the letter only covered the men’s team, not the women’s team. Thus, the women’s visas were delayed.

After two rounds of play, the Ethiopian women, with money and visas at the ready, were preparing to fly to Dresden. Sadly, Kebadu had to give them terrible news.

Kebadu: “It was very, very hurting to myself to tell them that they cannot come, even if we have their money, because after two rounds, no team will be accepted”.

“They were heart broken. I still get emails from them. I tried to comfort them. Because this is the first time that we tried to get a women’s team represent Ethiopia [in any international chess event]”.

Despite this serious setback, however, Kebadu is optimistic, hoping that the next time will be an easier one, especially, for the women.

“God didn’t mean it this time [for the women’s team to play], but we have done the ground work”, he added.

For a backgrounder on the Ethiopian “saga", check out this post (“Ethiopians Denied German Visas”) and this one ("African Nations Booted From the Chess Olympiad") by Daaim Shabazz on The Chess Drum blog.

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