Haile to the Rescue

Haile has proven himself to be an exceptional athlete, a shrewd businessman and a great Ethiopian. His legacy of starting the Great Run has earned the country recognition and promoted the country as a great tourist destination. It can never be underestimated and should be celebrated.

The Ethiopian squad sent to the Rio 2016 Games was one of the weakest in our many years of Olympic glory. It was full of controversial, scandalous and sad milestones, which have not been addressed even now, several months later. Veteran long distance runners and a few daring sports journalists have tried to ask the right set of questions and demanded appropriate answers from those in authority.

It has been noted that most of the sports management team was travelling business class, while our athletes were being crammed in economy class en route to Brazil. They should have been taken good care of, since they are the main ingredients of why we value our athletes. There were also reports of good coaches being substituted for inexperienced ones for unexplained reasons and money being exchanged for favours, while the infamous Robel and his father were making us the laughing stock of the world. Through this process, we are creating an image of weakness and changing our Olympic character, which in the past deserved respect.

What was even more disappointing was the Committee’s failure to meet its low target of four gold, four silver and four bronze medals – achieving only 61% of this target. Only thanks to Almaz Ayana, who won Ethiopia’s only gold, was our performance not even more embarrassing. The rest achieved only two silver and three bronze medals between them. The 61pc target was confusing at best and it did not give weight to the value of each class of medals. For me, this is like adding apples and oranges all together.

A thorough review of what happened was to be conducted; however, the day came and passed. Concerned members and citizens forwarded their disappointment to influential figures within Ethiopia’s athletic circles, including Haile Gebrselassie, but nothing has happened. Haile is an elder-statesman in the athletics world and has now retired. I am glad to see that he is running for the Presidency of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. He probably has his own perspectives, especially on democratic principles, but one cannot help but respect his views on this pressing matter. Isn’t that what a true democracy is all about?

Haile Gebrselassie has now been nominated to help manage the Athletics Federation alongside other veterans, including Gebre Mariam G/Egziabher and Sileshi Sihein. I once met Haile, with his signature smile, as his wife, Alem, was hospitalised at Bras Hospital having a child, near the historic Imperial Hotel.

Haile was born in 1973, in Assela, at the bottom of Chilalo mountain range – one of the highest mountain ranges in the country. He walked 10km daily to attend the Ras Darge School.

For athletes like Haile, Fatuma Roba, Derartu Tulu and the Dibaba girls, it must be the organic food, the indigenous barley and the bio milk, along with the environment, that has made them such powerhouses. I have consumed the food baked from a mixture of teff and barley, withstanding the roughness of the barley “injera” on the tongue, and I can attest that it is a good way to build one’s greatness.

Having won the Berlin Marathon at least four times, both indoor and outdoor long distance running competitions since 2007, including the Dubai Marathon, it should not come as a surprise that Haile has made a name for himself.

Haile is a brand name the world over. I admire his linguistic ability to express himself and his experience with the World Athletics Federation. I have no doubt, he brings certain qualities and experiences to the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. From the global perspective, Haile, Rade Cliff and Sergey Booka have become influential African voices in the athletics arena.

As the world has become weary of watching East African runners dominate 5,000 and 10,000 metre races and begun to introduce anti-doping tests at the athletes own expense, Haile’s nomination could give him and us a much needed voice to speak on the ordeal of African athletes.

What should perhaps be noted here is the integration and selfless commitment shown by Wolde Gabriel Mezgebu, a nominee from the Tigray regional state government. Having the required educational background and experience in organising structures, including coaching, he has endorsed the efforts of Haile to be president.

We should never forget the memories Haile bestowed on all of us, hearing our national anthems being sang on foreign lands. I hope his candidacy is designed to serve his beloved country and not just a short-term commitment based on emotions. His dream for the next generation is huge, with setting an example as a role model high up in his priorities.

In reflection, we can remember the legacy of Abebe Bekila in Tokyo, winning his second marathon in a record time. Mamo Wolde, the brave athlete, who then succeeded him when his legs failed him. How about the time when he ran home defeated, but thousands greeted him chanting – “Haile, Haile, Haile” to the backdrop of a Teddy Afro song that paid homage to Kenenisa Bekele.

Haile has proven himself to be an exceptional athlete, a shrewd businessman and a great Ethiopian. His legacy of starting the Great Run has earned the country recognition and promoted the country as a great tourist destination. It can never be underestimated and should be celebrated.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Nov 08,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 862]



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