ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Distance running great Haile Gebrselassie was elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation on Saturday after saying the sport in his country had been "stained" by doping allegations and he wanted to "clear that up."
The two-time Olympic champion in the 10,000 meters received nine of the 15 votes in a ballot of Ethiopia's regional athletics leaders. He beat two other candidates, with incumbent EAF president Alebachew Nigusse not standing for re-election.
The 43-year-old Gebrselassie was elected for a four-year term.
Gebrselassie is probably Ethiopia's greatest ever runner, winning two Olympic and four world titles in a career that spanned over 20 years and also included a series of major marathon victories and world records in distances from 5,000 meters up to the marathon.
"I feel so honoured to be elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation! Will work on a great future for Ethiopian athletics!" Gebrselassie wrote on his official Twitter account.
In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the election, Gebrselassie said Ethiopian athletics was "not on the right track."
The country was underperforming in comparison to East African neighbor and distance running rival Kenya, Gebrselassie said, but also had its reputation undermined by a string of doping cases.
Six Ethiopian athletes were suspended on suspicion of doping this year — two of them have now been banned — and the World Anti-Doping Agency warned the country's authorities that they needed to strengthen their anti-doping programs.
"Our country's name has been mentioned alongside other countries for doping," Gebrselassie told AP. "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."
Ethiopia has had to live in Kenya's shadow in recent years in terms of success on the track, a trend that continued at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where Ethiopia won one gold medal in track and field compared top Kenya's six. Changing that was a priority, Gebrselassie said.
"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 neighbor Kenya. Our main problem is that we haven't had a leadership that could bring out and nurture that talent."