Distance running great Haile Gebrselassie has pledged to introduce major reform in Ethiopian athletics after being elected as the new president of his country’s national governing body for the sport.
The two-time Olympic champion in the 10,000 metres gained nine of the 15 votes at the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) election on Saturday. He defeated two other candidates to secure a four-year term in office, with incumbent EAF president Alebachew Nigusse not standing for re-election.
The 43-year-old Gebrselassie retired from competitive running in March 2015 following a glittering career which also included four world titles, a host of wins in major marathons and world records across multiple distances. Gebrselassie said on his Twitter account: “I feel so honoured to be elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation! Will work on a great future for Ethiopian athletics!”
Gebrselassie takes the EAF presidency with athletics in Ethiopia having seen a downturn in success, along with being impacted by doping scandals. Six Ethiopian athletes were suspended on suspicion of doping this year, with two having been subsequently banned. The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has also called on Ethiopian officials to strengthen their anti-doping systems.
“Our country's name has been mentioned alongside other countries for doping,” Gebrselassie told the Associated Press news agency ahead of the election. “One of my first jobs if I get elected is to make sure that athletes could win without doping by showing them that I'm a living proof.
“Instead of challenging Wada and other anti-doping agencies, we have to be able to admit that we have a problem and then work hard to address it. I believe that Ethiopia's doping problem is not deep. But certainly there are signs.”
On the track, Ethiopia secured only one gold medal at this year’s summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – its worst haul since the 1992 Games. “The state of athletics in Ethiopia is not on the right track so I don't want to sit idle and watch it turn into ruins,” Gebrselassie said.
“Ethiopia's athletics potential is probably four times bigger than our neighbour Kenya. Our main problem is that we haven't had a leadership that could bring out and nurture that talent.”