Derartu Tulu (Chief Superintendent) is a legendary Ethiopian long-distance runner. She was the first black African women to win a gold medal, after she became the victor in the women’s 10,000 meters in Barcelona in 1992. Since then, she has racked up an impressive list of achievements, including coming back from injury, and starting a family, to win the gold in the 2000 Olympics. She also took up marathon running, finishing second in the Madrid marathon, and becoming the first Ethiopian women to win the New York marathon in 2009. Currently, she serves as the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, taking over the post from Haile Gebreselassie in late 2018. EBR’s Kiya Ali spoke with Derartu about her views on gender equality and leadership.
EBR: In Ethiopia, there is a pressure from society for women to take responsibility for all family matters, whether or not she has a job. How do you balance that with your career?
Derartu: Athletics by itself is a difficult career. To be a champion requires complete attention, consistent training, and a lot of effort and energy. So, after training, performing household chores is very difficult. And my family members fully understand this. They were supportive and have not imposed all of the duties and responsibilities of household matters on me. They didn’t let me to take care of each and every family matter alone. There is a culture of cooperation in our family, which helps me to focus on my career.
Yet, though the burden is not simple there are many women in Ethiopia who raise their children, do household activities and become successful in their careers. If there is a culture of cooperation among family members it is going to be easier to balance family matters and career. The key to success is cooperation.
What have been your experiences with gender discrimination? How has it impacted your career?
In this regard, I have been lucky. Since I had many very good male friends, I was not discriminated as a result of my gender. I was surrounded and grew up with caring and supportive male friends.
Currently, you are serving as the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF). How do you compare your duties with your previous career?
Leading the EFA and running require different skills. Running is more of individual effort but leadership is team work. Thus, as an athlete the response is very good and as a leader I will be evaluated based on my work in the future.
What is your leadership style?
I do not have a single leadership style. I used mixed methods. I believe that leaders have to be flexible and act based on the demands of a specific task. They do not have to stick to just one way and always follow that. They have to figure out what works for a particular task and respond accordingly.
What do you think was the major gain Ethiopia as well as Africa gained after you won the 10,000 meter race in Olympics in Barcelona?
There had been no female athlete in Ethiopia, or in Africa, who had won the 10,000 meter race in Olympics history before I won in Barcelona. I was not expecting to be a champion in the Barcelona Olympics. However, I trained using all of my potential.
I think the major gain that comes after I become a gold medallist is the fact that many women were able to become champions. I believe my success story inspired female athletes. The response from the society was also very encouraging and give me additional motivation to find more success.
The EAF has faced a lot of criticisms. How do you think you can help it fulfil its potential?
The responsibility I took on is not simple. It requires leadership skills and experience, interest, knowledge, commitment and team work. In order to lead effectively, you have to upgrade your knowledge continuously in different subjects. Besides, sport belongs to the people. So you have to create a sense of belongingness among stakeholders. By incorporating all of these and by putting forth all of my effort I will strive to bring about positive change. I took this responsibility to contribute what I can instead of looking at the situation from distance.
8th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2019 • No. 72