Elite sportsmen and women are usually not considered among the smartest of investors of their fortune in Africa.
However, long distance legend, Haile Gebrselassie, believes that perception, arising from experiences of the past, could be banished soon as successful sports stars of today have what it takes to make a big economic impact in their societies.
Consequently, he has challenged African sports stars, who have made a fortune to re-invest their wealth in Africa instead of indulging in lavish lifestyles which do not last.
“I think rich sportsmen and women should think of investing their money in their countries by setting up viable businesses which can provide employment. That does not only help people who need jobs, but also a way of giving back to the country that gave you an identity and supported you to be where you are.”
Speaking exclusively to Graphic Business, Gebrselassie, a retired world long distance champion, now a successful businessman and sports ambassador, said many sportsmen in their prime, forgot to invest their fortune and others who invested their money did so in foreign lands, a practice, he said, was only beneficial to the athletes thus with little or no economic impact on their countries and Africa.
Invest in Africa
“Africa is all we’ve got. We can help make it better and bring about some positive change in the lives of the people who support us. No matter how small our earnings, apart from fending for ourselves, if we are truly in a position to set up businesses, it’s better we do it at home rather than in the foreign countries.
“We are all concerned about making Africa a better place instead of the gloom picture that is usually painted abroad. If we truly care, then we should put our money where our heart really is,” Gebrselassie told Graphic Business during his visit last week to Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) on the sidelines of the Millennium Marathon in Accra.
Perhaps, the long distance legend, who dominated the world stage for over 10 years in the 1990 and 2000s, speaks from experience. From a humble beginning, he is now an employer of over 1,600 people in his business in Ethiopia.
Earnings from athletics in the form of appearance fees, prize money and endorsement, found their way into smart, profitable investments which he runs with his wife and brother. Today, the athletics legend owns a five-star hotel in Addis Ababa, has a booming real estate development business, as well as thousands of acres of farm.
These investments, Gebrselassie says, are not just lasting legacies for his family but are also contributing immensely to Ethiopia’s economy.
“I wake up every morning feeling grateful and still a winner because anytime I set off to work, I think of the people whom through my effort can now cater for their families and the contribution my investment is making in the Ethiopian economy.
He owns one of the tallest buildings in Addis Ababa called the Alem Building (named after his wife). From there he and his wife run a successful property business which has financed the building of seven of Addis Ababa’s tallest buildings. All of which has helped make him one of Ethiopia’s richest men.
His business empire employs some 1,600 people and his interests range from coffee to beans from his farm, which he insists, are the world’s most flavoursome to motor trading.
He has the sole licence to import Hyundai cars into Ethiopia with a big showroom built for that business.
The legend has a philantrophic eye to his ambition, having built two primary schools in Ethiopia and is heavily involved with the Great Ethiopian Run, Africa’s largest mass athletics event, which works with NGOs and the UN to inform people in his homeland about health matters and the importance of education.
He noted that while sportsmen and sportswomen enjoyed their successful careers in their active years, they should be guided by the “after career period” which could be very “lonely, sad and frustrating.”
“Of course, we all have our plans with what we do with money, but success in sports is not guaranteed all the time, so while you are successful and make money, it is good to also plan and prepare for the life after those active days as we all know, active participation and competition is not a life long event.
“The age of retirement for sportsmen is perhaps, the shortest compared to all other professions and living happily and still remaining relevant after that time depends on the plans and choices you make.
” I chose to remain and invest at home in Ethiopia despite the lure of all the beautiful countries I’ve travelled to. And I’m very happy about my choice. From experience, I think every sportsman who has mother luck smiling on him should do same.”
At age 19, Gebrselassie hit the limelight in 1992 when he won both the 5,000m and 10,000m in the World Junior Championships in Seoul.
From there, he began to dominate the 10,000m, winning two Olympic titles and four World Championships (the first in 1993), and breaking 27 world records, even though he has been asthmatic since childhood.
As he grew older, he became more interested in the marathons and competed and won Berlin marathons (he set the current world record for the marathon, at a time of two hours, three minutes and 59.28 seconds, in Berlin in 2008).
Though retired, Gebrselassie remains relevant to the sport industry, and despite the millions he made from sport, he still earns close to about $250,000 to show up for any city marathon.