Ermias Ayele relates the village where he was born, “Jan-Meda”, with his decision to have a career in sports and leisure management. He recalled the first time he had a desire to organize the Great Ethiopian Run as a volunteer in 2004. Ermias discusses the challenges and prospects of organizing the largest run in Africa for the past 13 years through various leadership posts, with Capital’s Haimanot Ahsenafi. Among all the challenges he has faced, he feels working with some government policies have been the most difficult obstacles to overcome and could push back the Great Ethiopian Run.
Capital: Take us back to your entry in the great run? How did you decide to join the event management when you were an engineer for Ethiopian Airlines?
Ermias Ayele: I was assistant event organizer in 2004 for the Great Ethiopian Run and I remember I enjoyed every bit of the event. And the next year, as I was working for Ethiopian Airlines, I had free tickets to travel and I was thinking to go to Europe. It was at this time that the Great Ethiopian Run offered me the opportunity to travel with Haile Gebreselassie to Manchester city. I covered my tickets and the Great Ethiopian Run facilitated my accommodation in Manchester for me to observe the British Marathon. Haile won that race and the event seemed perfect so I really enjoyed the moment and learned from that. After I came back and while I was working on a part time basis the Great Run offered me a full time job as a marketing manager and I took the opportunity, with the promise of the company to facilitate my training. So I got the chance to study for my Master’s Degree in the field of sport and leisure management in the UK. The village that I was born and raised contributed to my desire to work in sports for a living I guess. Jan-Meda is a place where many city residents come to play games. I also remember I somehow transformed the Ethiopian Airline staff football club.
Capital: How did your education in the United Kingdom help you to be a professional in your post as Executive Manager?
Ermiyas: It was an experience that changed my capacity. I had the chance to work with the Great North Run, which co-founded the Great Run in Ethiopia, in various events while I was studying in England. But mostly, the post I have worked in Scotland after graduation transformed my view to the area. The summer time in Europe and the day was so long and various festivals and events were going on. Ultra Race is one of my favorite ones in which participants from all over the world come to run for 24 hours without stopping.
Capital: How would you compare the change and development of the Great Ethiopian Run between when you joined and now?
Ermiyas: We are now on the global map for the race. Our team of staff is more than double and we organize about 10 races in year in the country for several causes. The number of participants is also a significant change and we are not covering the demand as we have declined request of more than ten thousand runners this year. Participants from overseas are also our achievement which hit a high in 2005 as it became 700 and we were able to generate USD two million the same year, according to a professional study conducted by England based evaluators.
Capital: Why have the number of runners from oversees declined after 2015 and what are the milestone achievements you think the Great Run made in terms of the mass sport culture, economy and athletics?
Ermiyas: I remember one parking boy telling our Dub Dub magazine, which is published every other month, that it is at the day of the Great Ethiopian Run that he will make the highest money from the entire year. The economic contribution we make from our different races is huge. The hotels, bars and many outfit stores get a significant customer boost during these times. Also every year we generate foreign exchange from our customers. This year we are expecting participants from 26 countries. Ireland has been the highest origin country of participants for many years as the Orbit Group, the eye medial team, is our loyal participant in addition to the British ones. Participants from China have a significant share year after year not only with our event but also globally taking over the superiority of sport travel from the US. Also the Great Run was successful in creating the opportunity for athletes not only in Ethiopia but also for Africa. We have invited 500 professional athletes and many are from Africa. We used to invite from Kenya previously but this year athletes from Eritrea, Uganda and Botswana are expected to participate. Also the experiences of Tsegaye Kebede and Netsanet Gudeta are among the athletes which made their global career after they won the Great Run.
Capital: You have announced that you changed the traditional route of the Great Ethiopian Run this year to begin and end in the 6killo area because of the African Union emergency meeting. How did that affect your plan? Did you think that the incident could have been managed another way?
Ermiyas: It is a reasonable decision for our government to worry about the safety of our African brothers’. But we have fixed the event, which is on the global race calendar, a year in advance. Many tourists have booked their flight ticket, hotel and everything with us. Also international media companies including CNN and Super Sport prioritized the event and if we cancel we will lose our global recognition. We hope the government can use the coincidence in a good way as many media outlets come to cover the summit we can sell the largest run in Africa. People are already registering for next year’s event. Harmonizing such kind of global events representing the nation on the global stage and our AU duty is mandatory for a better future. So we decided to change the course which is going to be a little bit challenging in comparison with the prior course. I hope people will enjoy the challenge.
Capital: You imported T-shirts from a US Company for the first time, why did you change your principle to use local products this year?
Ermias: We compromised quality for long time to support local producers but now we can’t continue this way. Especially size matters were the sources of complaint from our customers. We used the material which makes sweat evaporate this year. It cost us a lot of extra money to bring it but we absorbed it. The company also gave us a promotion price so that its product could be promoted in Africa. So we hope our customers will feel the comfort.
Capital: The cause you choose for this year is “Empower girls they are the next generation”. How did you choose that for this year as it fits the latest movement of the government?
Ermias: We picked the motto a year before now and we championed another one last year “100 reasons to empower girls”. We work in collaboration with Plan International to empower females in many other practices. We are happy now the government joined the path boldly.
Capital: Where do you see the great Ethiopian run and yourself after 10 years?
Ermias: The Nile Marathon Project is a good symbol for that. It is a line which we are in talks with Belayneh Kende who is constructing a big hotel in Bahir Dar near Lake Tana. The architect has brought the idea of constructing a way to connect the lake with the Nile Fall. The city Administration and the region heads have heard our proposal with the hotel proposal. The line which is not more than 30 kilometers is designable to be a marathon route. The track is also utilizable for other purposes throughout the year that tourists and the residents can walk to the fall or use a bicycle. So we are not limited in Addis Ababa, rather we have presence throughout the nation and we are planning to add two other annual events in the coming five years. The case of the CBE run was among the successful events in which we managed to have four runs in different cities of the nation. We also participated in organizing events for social purposes like for the Millennium Development Goals, the March Run for females and many more.
I led the company for eight years and the run has become the greatest in the continent. We are planning to partner with other African countries. So within three or two years I want to transfer my duty to the youth.