Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) President Haile Gebrselassie has said the national governing body will start imposing lifetime bans on drug cheats as it strives to restore credibility in the wake of recent doping issues.
In March, Ethiopia was among five countries designated by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) as being in “critical care” over its drug-testing systems.
The east African nation, which alongside neighbouring Kenya has for many years dominated distance running, responded with an announcement that tests would be carried out on up to 200 athletes.
The EAF subsequently suspended six on suspicion of doping, two of whom – Taemo Shumye and Sentayehu Merga – were later banned for four years.
Double Olympic champion Gebrselassie, who succeeded in his aim of becoming EAF President following an election in Addis Ababa last month, told Reuters the Federation has adopted a “zero tolerance” approach towards doping.
Photo: In 2007 Haile Gebrselassie won Berlin Marathon on the fantastic time 2:04:26.
“Our stand is no excuse towards someone who has cheated,” said the 43-year-old former long distance and marathon legend.
“As of today, any athlete who has offended will be hit by a life ban.”
The stance means Ethiopian athletes caught doping and subject to a four-year ban will no longer be able to compete for their country in any event.
It is stricter than that currently imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whose rules state that athletes who fail drug tests can face four-year bans, but after serving it, they are allowed to represent their country in any international event, including the Olympic Games.
Gebrselassie said his aim was to convince the IAAF that Ethiopia was serious in tackling doping.
He is also keen for the country to be removed from the list of nations identified by the world governing body’s President, Sebastian Coe, as being in need of “critical care”.
The list also includes Belarus, Kenya, Morocco and Ukraine, while Russia is currently banned from athletics entirely after a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report uncovered a state-sponsored doping regime in the nation.
Gebrselassie was reported to have gained nine of the 15 available votes in the EAF Presidential election.
Before the election, the winner of Olympic gold medals in the 10,000 metres at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 said he was “looking forward to use this experience and work together with all the people involved in EAF“.
The organisation had been chaired by long-serving female sports administrator Bisrat Gashawtena, whose deputy was Nega Gebre-Egziabher.
The EAF came under intense scrutiny earlier in 2016 after they controversially decided to omit Kenenisa Bekele, world record holder in the 5,000m and 10,000m events, from their marathon team for this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Bekele, 34, a three-time Olympic champion, described his omission from the Rio 2016 team for not having run enough big races in the previous year as “unjust” and criticised the EAF for their “biased” selection criteria.
Gebrselassie said he could not understand the decision not to take one of Ethiopia’s best distance runners to the Games.