Controversy looms over athletes’ selection

With less than 60 days left for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) and athletes are at loggerheads with regard to the selection of marathon runners.

Following the selection, on Tuesday, some 80-100 athletes led by double Olympic gold medalist, Haile Gebrselassie, Olympic marathon gold medalist, Gezahegn Abera and IAAF World Cross Country Championship winner Gebregziabher Gebremariam, protested against the national federation at Addis Ababa Stadium, accusing the EAF of poor management.

Kenenisa Bekele, who was omitted from the marathon team for Rio stated that the national federation did not select athletes fairly and was biased. He said that the federation recruited athletes based on individuals’ interests.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, officials of EAF held a press conference at National Hotel and said that the selection was conducted based on five requirements. The criteria included number of wins in major marathons, results from the world championships last year, and best marathon times in competitions over the last two years, consistency of performance in competitions, recovery time and resistance in finishing a race in a bad atmosphere.

“He (Kenenisa) has a big place in our athletics history but he has failed to qualify as per our requirements. We couldn’t change the criteria again to bring him back just because he is Kenenisa,” the president of the federation, Alebachew Nigusse, said at the press conference.

The athletes on their part said that they disagree with the criteria and claimed they were notified at the 11th hour. They also protested against what they perceived to be mismanagement by officials. Concerning the late announcement, Alebachew apologized.

According to Haile, the structure of EAF is not fit for athletes and the federation has to be led by athletes themselves. “Coaching has to be conducted by veteran athletes,” he said.

“We are not fighting for position. If our experience is not taken into account, the inconsistencies will continue,” he added.

According to the president, in the past four years the EAF has tried to give solutions to various issues including training of athletes, agreements between athletes and managers, anti-doping and payments of the athletes.

“We respect our elite athletes. Our offices are open to them and we are happy to work with them at any time,” the president said.

On the other hand, some members of Ethiopian Athletics Association participated in protests alongside elite athletes. 

It was in 1949 that the Ethiopian Athletics Federation was formed and soon became a member of the International Association of Athletics Federations. Since its inception, much of the federation’s activities were carried out with the help of amateurs.

Globally, the EAF is one of the leading member federations of the IAAF especially in long and middle distances. Continentally, in recent times, Ethiopian athletes are taking part in short distances and field events with some winning medals.