Tergat: Election of Haile as EAF president a wake-up call


Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie waves as he approaches the finish line at the end of the ...
Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie waves as he approaches the finish line at the end of the Morrisons Great Manchester Run last year where he announced his retirement thereafter. He was elected EAF President over the weekend. Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers Livepic

Former world marathon record holder Paul Tergat says the election of Haile Gebrselassie as Ethiopia Athletics Federation (EAF) over the weekend is a wakeup call for athletes to challenge for leadership positions in their sport.

Tergat and Haile had a famous rivalry in competition but are great friends off it with the retired Kenyan great celebrating the latter’s latest achievement saying it is what Ethiopia and Africa at large need to bring athletics back on track.

“This is the right direction. It’s only that for a very long time in Africa, people did not respect what contribution and experience these great sportsmen who have brought honour to their countries and the continent.

“I’m so happy and wishing Haile every bit of success in this new endeavour he has been bestowed by Ethiopia,” Tergat a five-time IAAF World Cross senior men champion said.

He tipped Haile to bring sanity back to Ethiopian athletics that is grappling with poor results on the track and doping issues.

“We have had a lot of challenges in the African continent when it comes to sports. Sport is very technical and many people do not understand. It is only people who have been in this for long.

“I know Haile has the capacity and passion and I’m looking to see to it he will be able to bring the changes because the sport had gone down in Ethiopia. It’s not only Ethiopia, even our country,” Tergat who ran 2:04:55 at the 2003 Berlin Marathon to claim the world record at the distance emphasised.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) member hopes Haile’s victory can stir local athletes to gun for leadership of Athletics Kenya (AK) that is also facing the same issues as EAF that the retired great is aiming to cleaning up.

“It is good to have structures to mentor sportsmen. We are very sad when we see good athletes wasted upon retirement. It is a wakeup call and this is the direction we all want to see in the near future- sportsmen being given responsibility to contribute to the enhancement of sports in the countries they come from.

“Look at the international federations. IOC president Thomas Bach was a gold medallist in fencing, look at the IAAF, current president Sebastian Coe was a top 800m and 1500m athlete and now he is trying to bring sanity to the sport and we are proud,” Tergat emphasised.

“Haile is someone we work closely together and we hope to see how to bring the partnership closer for the benefit of East Africa. I knew he was going to win and having Meseret Defar as the vice-president is great,” the 1996 and 2000 Olympics men 10000m silver medallist who was beaten to the gold by Haile on both occasions added.

Tergat criticised administrators without background in the sports they govern for clinging to power for long.

“We still have people playing pure politics not for the love of sports in charge. They try to push aspiring athletes from leadership positions. We need to make these things more open and transparent.

“We are coming in now and we will not be here for the rest of our lives, I don’t understand why someone would want to stay in charge for even 50 years unless they have nothing else to do in life,” he condemned.

A row is simmering in AK surrounding the ammendment of its constitution ahead of its next elections with runners especially those under the Professional Athletics Association of Kenya umbrella terming the process flawed and out to maintain the status quo.

It remains to be seen what effect developments north of the border will have as Kenyan runners battle to control their federation that is headed by retired Army chief, Lt. Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei who succeeded the late Isaiah Fundi Kiplagat who ruled for 23 years in November last year.

Haile won nine of the 15 votes to become the EAF president late Saturday in a closed assembly with London 2012 women 5000m champion Defar voted as his deputy in an exercise that saw politicians cleared out of leadership positions.

On Friday, IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe backed the candidature of Haile in a message conveyed to Africa through Citizen Digital.

-Credibility questioned-

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.

The east African nation is also struggling with a slump in form and won a single gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, its poorest haul since 1992.

“I feel so honoured to be elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation! Will work on a great future for Ethiopian athletics,” Gebrselassie said on his Twitter account.

In August, Gebrselassie said the whole athletics set-up “needed a revamp”.

Gebrselassie, considered one of the sport’s greatest distance athletes, gave up competitive running in March last year.

Nearly unbeatable on the track in his prime, he 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.

-Additional reporting by Reuters

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