Johannesburg – Throughout his career, Ethiopia’s athletics great Haile Gebrselassie has been breaking records on the track.
But for the past year, the former marathon world record holder has been running to reform the sport he dedicated his life to, but this time from an office.
The former long-distance runner spoke to the International Sports Press Association (Aips) about the differences between the two worlds during the 21st annual general assembly of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, last week.
The event marked the first anniversary of Gebrselassie’s election as EAF president.
On the topic of presidency – a year ago this time the whole world was waiting to see who, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, would succeed Barack Obama as 45th president of the US.
Meanwhile, Ethiopians were eager to know who would be at the helm of their athletics body for the next four years.
Whereas Donald Trump went to the White House, Haile Gebrselassie said he was going to the “Black House”. This was after his much-needed but unexpected victory to become head of the EAF, a position that has always unofficially been reserved for high-ranking politicians.
Many saw his candidacy as a beacon of hope for Ethiopian athletics.
Even though Gebrselassie is a proven champion and leader in his business, the precedent he set made many of his fans reluctant to support him. They considered him an outsider for the job.
Surprisingly, he comfortably beat his more politically experienced competitors to become the federation’s president. According to many, it is a position befitting an individual of Gebrselassie’s calibre.
Challenges and success
“The toughest obstacle during my first year as president was the existing and obsolete bureaucracy of the federation,” he said.
“It compromised our motivation and dedication.
“My biggest success so far has been helping to clean up the reputation of Ethiopian athletics, after knowing that fewer athletes were associated with doping.
“We had more than 340 athletes tested for doping. None of them tested positive for banned substances.
“In addition I introduced many amendments to make the organisational system more effective and to boost the income of the EAF by closely working with potential sponsors”.
Breaking records and leadership
“I found that breaking records is a hundred times easier than leadership. This is because when you are running it is up to you, to your speed, endurance and tactics. When you come to leadership, you have to listen to others, respect their opinions and, most importantly, gain their trust to win them over to your ideas to make the difference you wish,” he said.
Serving his country
“Many people may think that Haile is warming up for a global athletics leadership position.
“I can assure you that I have no interest at all in pursuing the leadership of either the Confederation of African Athletics or the International Association of Athletics Federations. My leadership goal is only serving my country”.
Gebrselassie emphasised that he had a committed executive committee working under him. It includes four former successful athletes who know what the sport needs and what the athletes need to succeed.
After completing his reform, his next move is to achieve results. Right now, he feels that he is on the right track.
Only time will tell whether he will succeed with this mission, just as he did on the track.
* This article first appeared in the Aips Newsletter. Follow Haileegziabher Adhanom on Twitter @haileadhanom