Arsenal lost 1-0 to Manchester United in the English Premier League on Sunday but an Arsenal fan in Uganda lost a lot more. Henry Dhabasani is now homeless after betting his two-bedroom house that the Gunners would defeat the Red Devils, The Observer in Uganda reported.
Before the match, he put the bet with Rashid Yiga in writing. Yiga had a lot to lose too – he reportedly staked his wife and new car on a Man United victory so he’s probably thanking Robin van Persie and his lucky stars.
Dhabasani, though, has big problems. According to The Observer, Man United fans stormed his house in Iganga on Monday and forced him and his family out.
On a cold and wet morning in the lush green hills high above Addis Ababa, Ethiopian track star Kenenisa Bekele circles a brick red track, slowly, steadily rebuilding his strength.
His muscular legs hit the ground in a quick rhythm. The only noise in the serene silence is his breath, piercing through the thin air 2 700m above sea level.
The world-record holder in 5 000m and 10 000m and triple Olympic champion, who has suffered from a calf injury for three years, is running at the centre he opened late last year to improve training conditions for Ethiopia’s renowned runners.
Now he is looking to attract foreign athletes too, transforming his camp in Sululta into what he hopes will be a world-class training centre.
“We are inviting athletes, we want to have other international athletes from all over the world, so we want to be part of training centres of the world,” he told AFP, speaking after a training session on the track, 10 kilometres from the capital.
Bekele says the new training centre was initially set up because there were no adequate tracks in the country, but was now also welcoming professional distance runners eager to train in the ideal climate and altitude of the Ethiopian highlands.
Bekele is also hoping to attract running enthusiasts of all levels, finding a new way of marketing Ethiopia as a tourist destination and tapping into a growing market of ‘hobby joggers’ the world over who are eager to rub shoulders with east Africa’s elite.
The size of the potential market related to the current running boom is certainly huge, with major big city marathons like London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo systematically selling out their tens of thousands of places within hours.
Keeping up with the Kenyan
It’s also a market that neighbouring Kenya, the other distance-running giant and Ethiopia’s arch rival, is already tapping into.
In the Kenyan Rift Valley town of Iten, elite runner Lornah Kiplagat has opened a High Altitude Training Centre, offering the austere eat-sleep-run regimen and a diet of thin air, endurance boosting hills and simple, unprocessed organic food to a growing number of elites and enthusiasts.
Bekele hopes Sululta will be the next Iten, and has already hosted several international track runners, including Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, the 2012 Olympic 1500m champion, and Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki and Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman – both 800m specialists.
It is Ethiopia’s second training camp, though Yaya Running Village on the outskirts of Addis Ababa – sponsored by fellow Ethiopian distance legend Haile Gebreselassie – lacks a track.
Bekele’s facility has one of only two world-class tracks in Ethiopia. The other, in the congested and dusty capital, was only recently refitted with a suitable track for long distance training.
Bekele had long complained the old track was too hard and likely worsened his stubborn calf injury, which has stilted his performance in recent years.
Bekele won gold in the 10 000m in Athens, and followed up with the 5 000m and 10 000m double in Beijing in 2008. But since then he has been beset by injury, finishing 4th in the London Olympics and missing out on the Moscow World Championships in August.
“Every time we go over that track, [we were] getting injury. It’s very strong, it’s not good for muscle,” he said.
“It’s a big challenge for me… not only me, many athletes have injury over that track,” the 31-year-old runner added.
Today, he is looking to regain his past fitness, training twice daily ahead of this month’s Great North Race, where he will face Gebreselassie and Britain’s Mo Farah.
Training with a legend
The centre is part of Bekele’s steadily growing business empire. In addition to a cinema and real estate in central Ethiopia, his first hotel opened in August on one of Addis Ababa’s cramped thoroughfares.
Bekele said that in addition to boosting tourism he is keen to invest to spur industry and create jobs, leaving a lasting legacy once his legs can no longer perform on the track.
“If I get more money, if I have that money in my pocket, if I’m not spending to create jobs, if I am not sharing with other people, it’s no sense,” he said.
Today, near the existing 17-room hotel neighbouring the track, the outlines of Bekele’s planned expansion stand tall.
It is the site of a new 100-room lodge, which will boast two swimming pools, a gym and basketball and tennis courts. He is also planning for a nine-hole golf course nearby.
Bekele said he wants to boost his business with these extra offers and hopes that, combined with the centre’s close proximity to Addis Ababa, its safe environment and clean air, Sululta will become a top international sports destination.
Plus, he jokes, his own experience comes with the centre – a chance for aspiring runners to be trained by a living legend.
“I will give my experience, I will share my experience,” he laughs, exposing his characteristic toothy smile.
Côte d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahoure made history on Monday by becoming the first female African sprinter to win a medal in the history of the World Athletics Championships in the 100 metres.
The 25-year-old – the daughter of General Mathias Doue a former chief of staff of the Ivorian army until he was sacked in 2004 by ex-president Laurent Gbagbo – is keen to add another chapter of history by becoming the first African woman to win a medal in the 200m.
Those heats begin on Thursday with the final on Friday.
Ahoure, who reached both the 100m and 200m finals at last year’s Olympics, showed in relegating defending world champion Carmelita Jeter into third in the 100m that she has the mental strength to cope with the major finals.
Even before the final, her status back in Côte d’Ivoire was assuming huge proportions, rivalling that of the national football team and their iconic striker Didier Drogba.
“Am I as well known as the national football team? Yes I am. They (the people) call me the ‘female Drogba’ in terms of being a sporting star… not much pressure there then!” laughed the engaging law graduate.
“When I won world indoor silver in Istanbul last year I returned to Côte d’Ivoire and I couldn’t believe my eyes as there was a huge crowd to greet me at the airport. It was crazy!”
Ahoure has remained very much an Ivorian despite a bohemian lifestyle from an early age which saw her sent to France aged three and then on to the United States where she was educated.
One of her ambitions is to be a role model to other African athletes and stop them from moving abroad and accepting payment to change nationality and run for other countries.
“This medal was for [Côte d’Ivoire], no other country,” said Ahoure.
“I think it is sad so many African athletes feel it is necessary to move abroad and run for other countries.
“At the same time I understand as they have to make a living and an athlete’s life is a precarious one, one lives with the ever present fear of injury which can end your career.”
While Ahoure is grateful to the United States for having provided her with an education and with her future career assured as a lawyer, she said she wants her exploits on the track to persuade other Africans to follow her example.
“I hope that I can serve to be an inspiration to other African athletes and inspire other young Africans to take up athletics.
“The pride I feel when I put on the national team vest is huge and I repay their faith in me by putting [Côte d’Ivoire] on the athletics map. This too could be the reward for other African athletes.”
As his feet hit the pedals at lightning speed, Haile Gebrselassie barely breaks a sweat on an exercise bike at his gym in the Ethiopian capital’s upscale Bole district.
He then proceeds to work on his chest muscles, hours after jogging down the forested hills in the northern suburbs of Addis Ababa.
The 40-year-old still maintains the tough regimen that brought him track glory and international recognition for two decades, after clinching the 5 000 metres and 10 000 metres races at the 1992 Junior World Championships in Seoul.
Some 27 world records, two Olympic gold medals and four World Championships titles later, Gebrselassie, regarded by many as the greatest long distance runner of all time, says he still does not know when he will retire from sport.
But he has yet to start on his one longstanding ambition – to enter politics – something he now plans to do at Ethiopia’s legislative elections, in two years’ time.
“Now I think I am a little bit mature. As I told you in 2010, my ambition was politics,” he told Reuters. “Now 2015 is the perfect time.”
“People think I will become a parliamentarian, but the competition won’t be easy. That’s why I needed to prepare two years in advance.”
Known as “The Emperor”, Gebrselassie enjoys immense popularity in the Horn of Africa country and has used his winnings to build a successful business empire including hotels, a car dealership, a cinema and a sports complex.
But some in Ethiopia have expressed their surprise at his political aspirations, given the country’s dubious democratic track record.
Politics is dominated by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, in power since 1991 when it ousted Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta.
In Parliament, all but two of the 547 seats are held by the ruling party. There is one independent member and only one from an opposition party, which often accuses the government of arbitrarily arresting its members.
Gebrselassie plans to run as an independent, and says he is not daunted by the prospects of politics tarnishing his reputation as a sporting hero. The ruling party had yet to express a clear opinion on the popular athlete’s bid for public office.
Sport scandal “We are dreaming about a democracy like the ones in Europe and America, it’s a long process. How can you expect [that] in 20 years?,” he said.
Ethiopia has come a long way, he says, from the days of military leader Mengistu Haile Mariam, whose purges killed tens of thousands of people in the mid-1970s when victims’ bodies were often left in the street to discourage dissent.
“We have to give chances. Now we are here, at least we are safe to come back home, at least we are safe to do something else,” he said.
Gebrselassie has yet to issue a policy manifesto, but he says he would support measures to help fight poverty and enable Ethiopia to become a middle-income country.
“As citizens, all of us have a responsibility. Its not only a responsibility for the government or the opposition, all of us have our own responsibility,” he said.
“If we achieve that … we can change this country, we can reach the democracy we dream [of] and we can eradicate poverty.”
Speaking on the latest doping scandal to hit international athletics, Gebrselassie urged anti-doping bodies to widen the scope of their investigations, after former world sprint champion Tyson Gay failed a dope test but denied knowingly taking a performance-enhancing drug.
The scandal marked yet another blow for the sport after former world 100 meters record holder Asafa Powell and Olympic 4×100 meters relay silver medallist Sherone Simpson also said they had both tested positive for the stimulant oxilophrine at June’s Jamaican championships.
Gay said he had “put his trust in someone” and that he had been let down.
Gebrselassie said he “still could not believe” the weekend’s disclosures.
“It’s better to stop these problems from the root. You don’t know sometimes, [whether] in these kind of problems there is someone behind [the athlete’s doping],” he said.
In a sweaty township gym where Nelson Mandela once trained as a young boxer, athletes are still pumping iron today, inspired by the peace icon’s example as he fights for his life in hospital.
In the early 1950s, a youthful Mandela worked out on week nights at the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre, or the “D.O.” as it’s still affectionately known.
Spartan and slightly run down, the walls ooze with the intermingled history of sport, community life and the decades-long fight against apartheid oppression.
It was here that Mandela came to lose himself in sport to take his mind off liberation politics.
Nestled in the heart of South Africa’s largest township just south of Johannesburg, the community centre was also where famous African songbirds like Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie first performed.
The 1976 uprising against the imposition of the Afrikaans language in black schools were planned from the D.O. as Mandela and other leaders languished in apartheid jails.
“Here, look, these are the very same weights Madiba used for training,” proud gym instructor Sinki Langa (49) says.
“They have lasted all these years,” he said as he added another set to a bar his fellow trainee Simon Mzizi (30) was using to furiously bench-press, sweat dripping down his face.
Nearby, other fitness enthusiasts worked out to the tune of soothing music which, unusually for a gym, included opera.
‘Drenched with sweet memories’ The D.O. – or Soweto YMCA as it is called today – opened its doors in 1948, the same year the apartheid white nationalist government came to power.
Built with funds donated by Colonel James Donaldson, a self-made entrepreneur and staunch supporter of the now governing African National Congress, the D.O. centre includes a hall, and several sparsely furnished smaller rooms like the one where Mandela sparred as a young man.
Today the gym is housed in an adjacent hall, which was the original building on the grounds erected in 1932.
Mandela joined the D.O. in around 1950, often taking his oldest 10-year-old son Thembi with him.
In a letter to his daughter Zinzi, while on Robben Island where he spent 18 of his 27 years in jail, Mandela recalled his days at the gym.
“The walls … of the DOCC are drenched with the sweet memories that will delight me for years,” he wrote in the letter, published in his 2010 book Conversations with Myself.
“When we trained in the early 50s the club included amateur and professional boxers as well as wrestlers,” Mandela wrote to his daughter, who never received the letter because it was snatched by his jailers.
Training at the D.O. was tough and included sparring, weight-lifting, road-running and push-ups.
“We used to train for four days, from Monday to Thursday and then break off,” Mandela told journalist Richard Stengel in the early 1990s, while writing his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
When he was handed a life sentence in 1964, Mandela kept up the harsh regime of his training to stay fit and healthy.
“I was very fit, and in prison, I felt very fit indeed. So I used to train in prison … just as I did outside,” Mandela said in a transcript of his conversation with Stengel, given to AFP by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
Mandela was eventually released from jail in 1990 and in 1994 he was elected South Africa’s first black president.
‘He’s a fighter’ In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela admitted he was “never an outstanding boxer”.
“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing as much as the science of it… It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle,” Mandela wrote.
“Back in those days, boxing was very popular – it was part of that culture,” Shakes Tshabalala (81) who has been involved with the centre from the start told AFP.
Pugilism always played a big part in Mandela’s life. At his house-turned-museum at 8115 Orlando West, boxing-related items like the WBC World Championship belt donated by Sugar Ray Leonard are on display.
Back at the centre, a new generation of youngsters are training.
Although few of them box today, they draw their inspiration from Mandela’s example in healthy living.
While the ailing 94-year-old statesman is battling a recurring lung infection, the gym-goers firmly believe the liberation icon will return for one last round.
“Mandela was a sportsman. This is why today he is still alive,” said gym instructor Langa.
“I am worried about him, but I know he’ll win. He’s a fighter,” he said.