By FP REPORTER and AGENCIES
Claims surfaced in international media alleging that undue political pressure from the Ethiopian government may have compelled Haile Gebrselassie to announce his stunning retirement from athletics after November 7’s New York Marathon.
On Monday, reports from Addis Ababa said much to the relief of distance running enthusiasts worldwide that the world marathon record holder had rescinded his decision to quit the sport that has brought him fame and enviable fortune while elevating him as an inspirational figure among Ethiopian youth.
According to the New York Times, "His agent, Jos Hermens, said from Addis Ababa Gebrselassie had reacted emotionally after leaving the New York course at 16 miles of the 26.2-mile race. He also felt guilty for having dropped out of a half-marathon in New York earlier this year."
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However, he controversially "suggested that Haile’s emotional decision to retire might have stemmed in part from political pressure he was feeling in Ethiopia. His phone has been tapped by government officials and he has faced some sort of blackmail attempt," the paper quoted Hermens as having said of his client."
The report quotes the agent saying, "There is a lot of pressure on him in Ethiopia. I don’t know all the details."
The Ethiopian Review, an opposition online journal based in Washington, reported this month that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi’s wife and her associates were attempting to force partnerships with Haile on a new hotel that he had built and on other real estate ventures.
The mayor of Addis Ababa, an ally of the prime minister and his wife, had also recently ordered the confiscation of land that had been leased to the twice Olympics 10,000m champion, the journal reported, citing sources in Addis Ababa.
‘Mother of corruption’
"Zenawi’s wife Azeb Mesfin (commonly known as the "Mother of Corruption") and her business partners are going after Haile’s enterprises with demands for partnership," Ethiopian Review stated.
"For a long time, Haile has been heavily investing in real estate development and this year, his new five-star hotel in the town of Awassa was inaugurated. The four-story, 150-room hotel was built at the cost of 200 million birr (Sh2b). Haile is also preparing to build 200 condos in Addis Ababa on 40,000 square meters of land."
It added: "Recently, Zenawi’s puppet mayor of Addis Ababa, Kuma Demeksa, a close ally and business partner of Azeb, has ordered the confiscation of the land leased to Haile. Apparently, his company, Haile & Alem Real Estate, is competing with other companies who have Azeb as partner."
"All this pressure came out; he was emptying his heart," Hermens said.
Haile, who has held 27 world records in a two-decade career, is expected to mark his return at February’s Tokyo Marathon, with the London 2012 Marathon and Olympic gold also in his sights.