Athletics - Haile Gebrselassie slams IAAF move to cut Diamond League disciplines

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FILE PHOTO: Haile Gebrselassie, former Ethiopia's long distance runner and Olympic champion, speaks during an interview with Reuters in his office after he was elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
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By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The IAAF's decision to limit the longest event in the Diamond League circuit to 3,000 metres will "disproportionately affect" Ethiopia and Kenya, two powerhouses of middle and long-distance events, running great Haile Gebrselassie has said.

After a meeting in Doha, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Council said on Monday the circuit will have a trimmer look and fewer meetings as the one-day competitions aim for a more consistent and fast-moving format.

Meetings will be reduced from 14 to 12 competitions, while the number of disciplines will be cut from 32 to 24 with 12 each for men and women.

But Ethiopian Haile, considered by many as the greatest distance athlete of all-time and who - alongside compatriot and rival Kenenisa Bekele - went chasing records to extraordinary effect in the 5,000m and 10,000m, said the move was "unfair" to countries that traditionally excelled in those races.

"It is a sad decision that will disproportionately affect Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as East Africa as a whole," he told Reuters in an interview.

"Some Asian countries have also been making strides in middle- and long-distance. At a time when the (governing) body needed to exert its maximum effort to boost athletics worldwide, it has taken a decision that is tragic and unfair."

The Diamond League, the IAAF's top competition outside the Olympics and world championships, at present has two end-of-season finals, with Zurich hosting one-half of the disciplines and Brussels the other.

The circuit, which celebrates its 10th season beginning in May, currently features nine races for men and women, including the 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m, and seven field events - high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus and javelin.

Haile said the Diamond League, alongside other events, has long been a competition where Ethiopia and Kenya have tussled for east African track dominance.

"Its (Diamond League) prestige will also be affected. Middle- and long-distance competitions were among the main draws at the time myself, Kenenisa and others competed. It will deprive fans of the chance to watch some of the world's best athletes."

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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