We saw Government Ministers, the Sports
Commission, and the local NOC and NPC – and we also managed to meet Haile Gebrselassie.
International Inspiration is the kind of project you’d expect to appeal to Haile. When he set up the Great Ethiopian Run in 2001, one of the race’s early aims was to promote and publicise AIDS-prevention messages. He understands the power that sport can have to change people’s lives for the better. So the promise made in the London bid by another world-beating runner – our Chair Seb Coe – that London would 'reach young people all around the world and connect them to the inspirational power of the Games so they are inspired to choose sport, improving their lives as a result’, was always likely to resonate with him.
Seb’s promise – London’s promise – formed the basis for International Inspiration (II), our major international sport development programme.
Working with LOCOG, the founding partners of the II Foundation – British Council, UNICEF and UK Sport – have developed a programme that now runs in 16 countries around the world, reaching nearly 11 million young people, training 79,000 teachers and sports coaches and influencing national and regional policies, strategies and even laws.
So here I was in Ethiopia, potentially country number 18, finding out about local priorities and looking at how II can develop sustainable sports partnerships with local organisations to enhance young peoples' lives in Ethiopia.
We sat in Haile’s office, watching highlights from the previous year’s 10k run, and then, suddenly, there he was, shaking hands and beaming hellos.
Myles Wickstead – an II Trustee and the former British Ambassador to Ethiopia – goes back a long way with Haile. Myles was instrumental in helping him set up the first Great Ethiopian Run. The introductions took place and Myles explained our mission. I presented Haile with a London 2012 pin-badge and his beam got even wider. He’s very excited about London 2012, and he’s also very clear about the colour of the medal he’s setting out to take home with him!
We had a very productive time in Ethiopia – I think it will host another extraordinary International Inspiration programme, and represent another big step towards our ultimate goal of reaching 12 million young people in 20 countries, thereby delivering a tangible international sporting legacy and our bid promise.
Oh, and Haile’s charm and charisma is such that at least three of us agreed to help launch the programme by running in the 2011 Great Ethiopian run in November. At altitude. Help. I’m looking for my training shoes this evening...