Eight months after Haile Gebrselassie’s election as president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF), his team is engaged in a demanding task. They are busy at strengthening the capacity of EAF. This includes attracting more sponsors to finance the athletics development projects throughout the country. The EAF was also preparing for a better result in the 2017 London IAAF World Championship. EBR’s Abiy Wendifraw spoke with the president and other stakeholders to learn about their effort to build a strong Federation and improve athletics in Ethiopia.
For businesspersons like Haile Gebresilassie, rising before dawn and working late into the evening is almost a habit. After becoming president of Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF), the sleeping time for the two time Olympic champion is getting further shorter. This is because strengthening a much weakened institution requires a lot of energy and resources. It’s especially demanding for Haile and his team who already spent eight months at the helm of the decision making office at EAF.
An athlete himself, Haile follows almost every race in which Ethiopians partake. “I follow sport news regularly [especially those races Ethiopian athletes partake].” says the enthusiast sporting icon now leader in the field. Haile is still moved when he talks about the 2016 world athlete crowning programme. “I was in the hall when Almaz Ayana, winner of the women’s 10,000 meter Olympic Gold in Rio 2016 with a spectacular finishing performance, got the crown as World Female Athlete of the year in 2016 in Sporting Monte Carlo, Monaco. You do not know how nervous I was before the result was announced. I was worried that Anita Wlodarczyk, a Polish hammer thrower, might clinch the title. I wanted the luck to be on our side and it happened to be so. This made my tenure as president of the EAF [a happy go lucky beginning],” says Haile.
Haile and his team at the EAF further saw the need for strengthening the financial capacity of the EAF to build up its operations. Just a few months from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championship London 2017 in August, the new administration at EAF announced the five years sponsorship agreement they reached with Heineken Breweries through its brand Sofi Malt, an alcohol free drink.
While the sponsorship deal worth ETB30 million, bargained by the federation and other experts, is considered a big success, there are some journalists who think EAF could have secured even more. “Having considered the glamorous results of Ethiopian athletes, I do not think ETB30 million, [roughly USD1.3 million] is big,” said Konjit Teshome, a sport journalist and a radio host at the press conference organized by the EAF and Heineken in late May to announce the sponsorship deal.
Yet, officials of EAF claim this is the best deal they could come up with. At the moment prioritizing none alcohol drink was also the other major reason to take the Heineken product. “We knocked every door to get the maximum possible offer from sponsors. But the amount of money was not the only decisive factor for us. We needed to be cautious with the type of brand we can work with. I do not forget what I faced when I worked with some brands.” Haile joked reminding his controversial commercial agreement for Johnnie Walker Whisky in 2010.
Though the officials look satisfied with this solitary deal, they believe EAF has to attract more sponsors for the tasks they are working on and have planned. “Our plans on the table are big. We cannot run it unless we raise four or five fold of the money we secured now,” says Haile on a press conference.
Besides the athletics development projects throughout the country, expanding the athletics discipline is also the new assignment the Federation wanted to take further increasing their resource needs.
None like doping is however a major threat for, the emperor of the long distance running, with the potential to ruin the image of the country’s athletics. That’s why he made his zero tolerance approach clear to everyone from day one of his election. He says EAF will request support from international bodies in this regard. “We have already established a very good understanding among the leadership and down the hierarchy in the federation. We are now working with the athletes.” says the President.
Because Haile Gebresilassie and Gebregziabher Gebremariam, president and vice president at EAF, known in sport and business are working cordially, sport enthusiasts expect more success in international arenas. Bizuayehu Wagaw, a long time athletics reporter who recently moved to Canada, wishes to see the new administration raising the standards of the domestic athletics events. “EAF have electronic result management system and using such state of the art equipments [I believe] can enable the federation to arrange trails at home,” he argues. Bizuayehu added that the facilities that are being developed throughout the country are an impetus for athletics development.
There are new stadiums in Hawassa and Bahir Dar with relatively lower altitude. Organizing trails at home gives Ethiopian athletes more chances. The benefit of such sporting events is far more than saving meager resources the country might have to spend to send athletes abroad, he highlights. Indeed the EAF incurred ETB1.5 million for taking 55 athletes at championship trials in Hengelo, Netherlands to help the athletes meet the entry standard qualifying time for London championship. “We could have familiarized the athletes locally without going to Hengelo with the system that the rest of the world is using,” pointed out Bizuayehu.
The new EAF leadership is also being challenged by the problems that have been rolling from the past. Dube Jilo, reinstated technical director at EAF, admits that the Federation is using the old manual method to register runners finishing time because the electronic result management system is not currently working. Dube added that “The system has some technical problem which needs to be fixed.” The facilities in the new stadiums are not yet to the standard to host trial events at home, according to Dube.
Anxiety is deserved for the fast approaching championship in London. Most Ethiopians who celebrated Haile’s election in November expect more medals in August this year. Haile believes that he has the skill to ‘make Ethiopian athletics great again’. He says he has the plan for that. Haile highlighted that in his plan recruitment of the best talents and assigning the right coaches for the job are part of his plans to achieve better results. Among his bold steps for this was reinstating the controversial Dube Jilo as technical director of the Federation. Dube Jillo, the 46 years retired long-distance runner, won the 1996 Vienna Marathon. A year later he triumphed at the Rome City Marathon, clocking 2:13:08.
“Although I believe in the paper works, I am, by and large, a practical person. [Of course], I believe in strategic plans. And we are good about it. Our challenge is to making it practical. My career as a runner helped me to understand this.” Haile also underlines the need for owning the plan and activities of the federation among all stakeholders. This can be done by sharing responsibility among them. Haile befitted the downside of rush “Setting targets for 2020 is good. But if I only remember that in 2019 and rush for all once, it is no good!” EBR
5th Year • July 2017 • No. 52