No doubt, the power of sport is among the least exploited capital in peacemaking as well as nation building. Sport is not ideological but can unarm every extremist. Sport heroes as well as events have been uniting people from all walks of life. But lately, this capital has been eroding.
Now, the sport community including businesses, universities, and government institutions, are joining arms to lay the foundation for a great public sporting series dubbed Kerod Running, under the theme of Running for Peace. EBR’s Abiy Wendifraw looked past the making of Kerod Running, expected to be a more conceptual version of the Great Ethiopian Run.
On March 30, 2021, Ethiopians were celebrating, singing, and dancing in the streets after their national football team qualified for the African Cup of Nations. It was easy to realize the unifying spirit of sport as people enjoy the moment together by putting differences aside. The Great Ethiopian Run (GER), the annual 10-kilometer flagship road running event in Addis, has always been an event demonstrating sport’s unique power in bringing people together in one place to laugh, sing, dance, and be happy overall.
For months, some national team athletes were working on a new initiative alongside training for the Tokyo Olympics. Ironically, this was happening while officials of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee and Ethiopian Athletics Federation were busy with a prolonged feud.
The 5000-meter world champion Muktar Edris and emerging stars Solomon Barega, Tilahun Haile, and Anduamlak Belihu, are joined by the national team’s Coach Tessema Abshero and his brother Ayele organizing the initiative “Running for Peace,” which they plan to kick-off next month. At the press conference held March 31, “Kerod Running Ethiopia” was introduced as a new sports association to hold annual races in Ethiopia.
Tessema, now Chairman of the registered association, says “Kerod means peace and we gave the association this name because it is more than a race. We believe our people need more and more initiatives like this that can help us realize the things we share as a society. Yes, we are sport personalities but that should not keep us away from other important things.”
The first race is planned to be held mid-May in Wolkite, Gurage Zone, 134km southwest of Addis Ababa. The 10km run with the message “Peace and Unity for Ethiopians” will be followed by a 5km race in Worabe, Muktar’s hometown. Then, a 8km women’s race will be hosted by Butajira, also in Gurage Zone.
The final race of the season, named Adabna, arrives in Addis at September’s end. Adabna is a holiday celebrated by the Gurage community a week after Meskel, the finding of the True Cross. “Adabna is such a unique holiday. It is the last gathering of families before getting back to their businesses after being adorned with blessings from elders. This race will be like the final family gathering,” Tessema explains.
Some might question why the ending is in Addis. “Addis Ababa is the best place to amplify the message we have for the whole nation and even for the continent. We also considered the business community we have in the city. The timing takes into consideration the other big event coming in November. We have to keep a distance of time with GER.”
For the organizers, the lessons from GER will help in executing with COVID-19 protocols. “We will follow important protective measures in our events. Social distancing is the reason for the halving of the original number of 20,000 participants.”
As a new race organizer, Tessema and his friends are open to advice and recommendations from international sport management institutions like Global Sport Communications, an organization involved in some of the world’s biggest marathons and track and field events. “Working with organizations as experienced in the athletics industry as Global Sport Communications will help us grow faster.”
To make the Wolkite race even bigger, Kerod is planning to invite elite athletes from neighboring countries like Kenya and Uganda. The race course has already been measured by local professionals and there are plans to bring an internationally certified measurer.
The association aims to encourage emerging athletes and teenagers in Gurage Zone where most of the founding members are from. The Kerod races will be a great opportunity for young hopefuls to show their potential to coaches, clubs, and the media.
“We want to recruit new elites from the area. Though the area has proven itself as a source of potential athletic greats, promising youngsters are not breaking through. The journey from schools to joining training centers and clubs and securing an athletics career is an uphill battle. We want to give them the chance to show their potential and find proper mentorship which is why we are working on establishing a training center. That is how we can recruit and bring better Solomons, Tilahuns, and Anduamlaks,” says Tessema.
Muktar, well known for his consecutive 5000m wins at the World Championships in London and Doha, believes the Kerod initiative will have a great impact on how society perceives athletics and sport. “I do not want the next stars to face the hardships I had to face. Some of the challenges would have been avoidable had society appreciated the passion and talent in the youngsters. I believe the race we are doing in my hometown will help people value sport more and thus encourage our juniors,” says Muktar.
The chairman, who owns a hotel employing over 70 workers, is confident that sponsorships will not be a challenge considering the response already coming in from businesses. Wolkite University is partnering with the association with in-kind support. Nib Bank, SENQ, and Fiker Water are among companies showing great interest.
“We are not in this to make money. Almost all of the founding members are from farming families. We have that important virtue found in farmers of being patient for the fruit of our efforts,” says Tessema. EBR
9th Year • Apr 16 – May 15 2021 • No. 97