Haile Under Pressure from Ethiopian Federation

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In a recent article on the Inside 2012 web site, a tremendous resource for the London 2012 coverage, several stories on Haile Gebrselassie, the dominant distance runner of our generation are emerging.

Yesterday, March 17, Haile spoke in Madrid, supporting the Spanish city's bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. At this time, Chicago and Madrid look to be the top contenders. Inside 2012 noted that Haile had supported the winning bid, London, long before 2012.

The key news here is the story, also on Inside 2012, that the Ethiopian Federation is pressuring Haile to run the marathon in Beijing....

In a copyrighted story on Inside 2012 (
http://www.insidethegames.com/show-news.php?id=1965), it appears that the Ethiopian Federation will not let up on the greatest distance runner of our generation, Haile Gebrselassie. In Gebrselassie's defense, he has noted that he might consider running if the site is moving out of Beijing in order to give the marathoners better racing conditions.

An IOC report, available on the IOC site, has said that activities that require more than 1 hour of strenuous activity, such as distance running, race walking, bicycling, could put the athletes under difficult conditions. Yet, there seems no interest on the IOC's part to change the venues or the circumstances of these endurance events.

Gebreselassie, who suffers from an asthma like condition, ran a superb half marathon in Lisbon, Portugal last weekend, running 59:15, defeating his 2001 Edmonton 10,000 nemesis, Charles Kamathi of Kenya, by nearly a minute. Haile noted to the Portugese press that this would be his last road race as he begins preparations to make the 10,000 team for Ethiopia for Beijing.

Understand that this is not a foregone conclusion either. Last year, Haile ran 26:52, with three Ethiopians and two Kenyans in front of him, and he was sixth! Now, given the several months of training, and his focus, this blogger believes that he will make the Ethiopian team at 10,000 meters, however, the pressure is there to run the marathon.

Where does Federation control and athletes rights, especially in the case of a global superstar, like Gebrselassie, conflict? The Federation is feeling pretty insecure right now, especially after the IOC noted that athletes could make decisions for themselves regarding matters of health.

The truth is, the IOC will not cancel the Games. Even with China blocking CNN and the web reports from Tibet, systematically silencing the opposition in Tibet, and reportedly, killing the opposition in Tibet, noting that this is an internal matter.

The IOC had great alternatives, Paris among them, and choose Beijing. They choose Beijing because, contrary to what they espouse, the IOC knows that they have huge political power, and that countries like China, emerging super powers, need and want the focus that an Olympics brings. However, the Chinese government more than likely did not expect the level of concern, observation and protest that their actions have caused.

The conditions in Beijing are complicated by the utter disregard of the environment, and lack of checks and balances in the government infrastructure. They can't control quality because they are hell bent on becoming a super power and that type of detail work slows down progress. It also, in the end, could utterly destroy what the rest of the world thinks of Chinese industry and the quality of products.

The weather conditions in Beijing will be a huge part of the puzzle. A friend who just returned today told me, that from six am in the morning until dusk, it was just smog-this was in Beijing. The rush to modernize has come at a huge price.

In Dr. Faustus, the good doctor sells his soul to the devil for eternal life. In China, the goal of modernization has come at a Faustian price. The huge monies put into modernization at any costs, the huge expenditures on the Olympic infrastructure have come at a cost A cost to the environment, a cost to the the free exchange of ideas, and a cost to the country of China.

In the news at this time is the a) terrible weather conditions in China for the Olympics, b) stories about a global superstar who will not run the Beijing Olympic marathon and may be forced by his country's federation, a federation perhaps feeling some pressure from its government, a government with close ties to the Chinese?

Haile Gebrselassie is a world class athlete, like many athletes who will compete in endurance events in a summer Olympics. He deserves, like anyone else who makes the commitment to compete in conditions that are not injurious to health. The IOC is very close to the line where the public and this blogger in particular, will have trouble giving them any credibility without some honest discussions on how difficult conditions can be at least humanized.

Haile is not asking for the world, he is putting some common sense into a situation fraught with politics, the game of international sport. That he can not just let his feet to the talking for him, as he has done for over a decade, in three previous Olympics and in six world championships is a true shame.

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