By Tadias Staff
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012
New York (TADIAS) – Last winter, when the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA), a 29-year old non-profit in charge of hosting the annual Ethiopian Soccer Tournament, elected new officers and sent out a press release announcing Dallas as the location of the 2012 Soccer Tournament, we reported that the much publicized disputes among the board members seemed to have been amicably resolved. Since then, however, things have dramatically changed.
“There is an ongoing lawsuit and because of our lawyer’s advice, I can not tell you the details of how our organization was formed,” Elias Dimberu, a public relations officer for the newly established AESAONE (All Ethiopian Sports Association ONE), told TADIAS in a recent response to our inquiry. AESAONE is aggressively promoting a rival tournament at the RFK stadium in Washington, D.C. scheduled from July 1st through 7th — the same time the ESFNA sponsored tournament takes place in Dallas.
“There is no court gag order so you can speak to me about whatever you need,” said Johnny G. Berhanu, the spokesperson for the older ESFNA. “The truth is that they are all former members of ESFNA, including the ex-president who lost an election, who have chosen to set up various entities basically disregarding not only the law but the bylaws of ESFNA as well.” He added: Our bylaws say no board member of ESFNA can use ‘proprietary data’ including business contacts for their own personal use for at least two years after they leave the organization. These guys stole our corporate identity, they took our sponsor accounts. They tried locking us out of our bank account and our website. Believe it or not, we were first alerted to the whole plot by a Verizon fraud department worker, who called to tell us that a couple of those guys were trying to take out two new cell phones using our name.”
The AESAONE PR Officer disagrees, while admitting that the group was forced to re-brand itself after facing a trademark infringement lawsuit in April for its previous name, ESFNAONE. “We’ve changed the name as required by law,” Elias responded.
“It took the judge less than fifteen minutes to approve a temporary restraining order against them, which has since been extended,” Johnny remarked regarding the lawsuit. “They can never, ever be able to use our name and confuse the public again.”
And the soccer teams? “There is no shortage of Ethiopian soccer players in the Diaspora,” answered Elias. “In fact, there are way too many.” He added: “People forget that there is more than one Ethiopian team in every major city. We already have 28 teams registered from the U.S., as well as one from Australia and one from England.” According to Elias, the D.C. tournament is sponsored by MIDROC, the company owned by Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi. “They are covering the entire tournament for three years, whatever the cost, no strings attached,” he said.
“The man has given them 2 million dollars and they are going around trying to buy players, offering them up to $10,000 in some cases,” Johnny charged. “I personally know someone in Canada who rejected their bribe.”
“That’s hearsay,” Elias objected. He points out that AESAONE was a sponsor and actively recruiting teams during the traditional Memorial Day weekend regional tournaments in the West coast, the Midwest and the South. “There were ten California teams participating in Sacramento, for example,” he said. “Nine in Atlanta and another ten quality ones in Minnesota.” He added: “For the first time, there will be teams coming from Florida, Arizona, South Dakota and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio.”
Elias continued: “In terms of money, we are covering transportation costs, including airfare, for 20 players of each team that are participating in our tournament. We are also providing each team with five hotel rooms. In addition, all teams receive one full jersey. And in case of emergency, each players gets up to $100,000 insurance coverage for injury which they can use throughout the year. Furthermore, for the first time we have arranged coach bus service, back and forth, between the stadium and the hotel.”
Addressing the ongoing lawsuit, Elias declined from sharing details except to state, “We are in settlement negotiations at the moment.”
But Johnny is willing to talk. “ESFNA is asking to recover court expenses and other damages from them,” Johnny said. “So far we have spent about $13,000 in lawyers fees and could go up to $20,000.” He continued: “There is business loss and related issues when they used the ESFNAONE name to promote their event causing serious confusion in the community. As part of the final settlement, we are asking that at a minimum they change their tournament date.”
“That’s logistically impossible,” Elias declared. “There is a reason why we chose the week of July 4th.” He continued: “Most of the players are students and the only major summer holiday where we can attract the players is the 4th of July. The next holiday is Labor Day weekend in September, which is too late.”
“Don’t you think they can do this in August and attract more people?” Johnny asked. “Ultimately, I want you to look for the motive.”
“Our motive is to create an organization that stands for one community, regardless of religion and politics,” Elias responded. “Sports being the pillar, to celebrate our culture.”
“Let me tell you something,” Johnny answered. “I am a volunteer and democratically elected member of ESFNA’s board. After two years if people don’t like what I am doing, they can vote me out.” He added: I am not going to go on a vendetta against the organization that I willingly serve. I am not saying they don’t have the right to start a business. This is the United States of America, they can do whatever they want. I am saying be lawful in your actions and be truthful to the public about your intentions.”
Johnny is using his three week vacation to travel from Canada to volunteer his time working on the Dallas soccer tournament logistics. Ironically, Elias who is working on the D.C. tournament resides in Texas. “Yep! I live right in the heart of Dallas,” he said.
Competition and choices are not bad for any community, but we hope the two sides can find a way to let vendors and the public enjoy both events without forcing them to take sides or choose one over another.