Two-time Olympic gold medalist, Haile Gebrselassie was elected as the new president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation amid discontent over mismanagement of the country’s track body, in a closed-door assembly held late on Saturday (November 05).
He is expected to help improve efficiency as the country deals with doping investigations and poor results on the track.
Ethiopia, which alongside neighbour Kenya has for many years dominated distance running, had its credibility questioned earlier this year when six of its athletes came under investigation for doping.
It subsequently announced that it would carry out tests on up to 200 athletes.
Nearly unbeatable on the track in his prime, Gebrselassie won the first of eight indoor and outdoor world championship gold medals at Stuttgart in 1993 and went on to hold world records from the 5,000 meters to the marathon.
He won Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters in 1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney.
Gebrselassie says he wants to improve the country’s image and work more closely with athletes because he understands their needs.
“My plan is to go to the athlete. I don’t sit here in Addis and wait for the new coming athlete. I don’t do that. I have to go there. There are camps, four different regions, Addigrat, Agereselam, Bokoji and Debremarkos. Those centers are producing many athletes. We have to go there and look,” he said.
The east African nation is also struggling with a slump in form – winning a single gold medal, two silvers and five bronze at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, its poorest haul since 1992.
Gebrselassie said the whole athletics set-up “needed a revamp”. Part of his strategy includes getting Ethiopians to diversify their skills.
“People know that athletics is running. But athletics is not only running. There is also jumping and throwing. I want to expand the events in which we are going to participate in sport. If we do that with quality, we can achieve something what we want to win gold in Olympics and world championship and that is the main target,” said Gebrselassie.
Ethiopia’s athletics-mad population welcomed the new appointment but many are waiting to see if Gebrselassie’s success as a competitor can translate into his new role.
“Every athlete will tell you about bad administration in that body including Haile himself who has been criticizing them openly. Now I hope he will find and dry up the source of corruption in the federation,” said Addis Resident, Mulugeta Bezabih.
“Since he was a successful athlete who has passed through the system and since he knows the problems I believe he will bring better results,” said another resident, Fikir Sintayehu.
“As far as we know Haile is a technical person. It is that capacity that helped him bring glory to Africa, even beyond Ethiopia. But a leadership position is more complicated because it also has management and political issues in addition to technical knowledge. These would require some level of education and knowledge. But we don’t know about Haile’s qualification in these aspects at the moment,” said Birhanu Arkegny.
Gebrselassie, considered one of the sport’s greatest distance athletes, gave up competitive running in March last year. He has since focused on business interests and is involved in real estate projects, owns four hotels, a coffee plantation and is an automobile distributor.