Race for Ski Federation presidency nears finish Line

(ATR) Four candidates are running to succeed longstanding International Ski Federation (FIS) president Gian-Franco Kasper.

RÈfÈrence : a11-kimd-ab-01-250
Theme : ALPINE
Style : ACTION
People : MEN
Discipline : DOWNHILL
Racer's name : CUCHE Didier
Nationality : SUI
Place : KITZBUEHEL (AUT) 2011
Event : AUDI FIS ALPINE SKI WORLD CUP 2011
Skis : HEAD
Copyright : Alexis BOICHARD/AGENCE ZOOM
RÈfÈrence : a11-kimd-ab-01-250 Theme : ALPINE Style : ACTION People : MEN Discipline : DOWNHILL Racer's name : CUCHE Didier Nationality : SUI Place : KITZBUEHEL (AUT) 2011 Event : AUDI FIS ALPINE SKI WORLD CUP 2011 Skis : HEAD Copyright : Alexis BOICHARD/AGENCE ZOOM

(ATR) Four candidates are running to succeed longstanding International Ski Federation (FIS) president Gian-Franco Kasper, the outcome to be determined from a June 4 virtual election.

All boast impressive credentials, wide-ranging experience, creative ideas and arrive from significantly diverse backgrounds, all contributing to the intrigue of the election.

The twice-postponed election had been scheduled for the 52nd FIS Congress in Portoroz, Slovenia, before the FIS Council made an April 1 decision to hold it virtually to ensure the health and safety of all parties.

The candidates are recently re-elected Swedish NOC president and FIS vice-president Mats Årjes, HEAD sporting goods chief executive officer Johan Eliasch, Swiss Ski Federation president and downhill world champion Urs Lehmann and former FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis.

Confronting the next FIS leader straight out of the gate will be the daunting task of overseeing the delivery of more than half of the events at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

Fifty-five out of 109 sets of medals (50.5 percent) available belong to the six FIS disciplines, with six new events across freestyle skiing, snowboarding and ski jumping, including three mixed gender team events.

The candidates offer their assessments, ideas and opinions about the chances for successful Winter Games next February, despite all international test events having been cancelled, thus far, due to COVID-19 safety concerns and travel restrictions to China.

Mats Årjes

If elected FIS president, Årjes intends to remain as Swedish NOC president – a position he has held since 2018 – while simultaneously leading FIS. He says he has sought feedback from friends and colleagues and does not see any issues or conflicts in performing both high-profile jobs.

"I have asked many people about this – if this is positive or negative and 100 percent of the people I asked are 100 percent positive, so I don’t think it’s a problem at all," Årjes says.

In lieu of the uncertainty swirling around the Beijing Games, Årjes, 53, expresses optimism based upon the work and contributions of winter sports experts assisting the Chinese organizers.

"We have to trust and rely on the experts that are working and representing FIS," Arjes says. "I am 100-percent confident that they will make sure that the events, arenas, accessibility and jobs are well-prepared."

The former president of the Swedish Ski Association believes there will also be positive results despite men’s and women’s alpine ski races – which were to be contested at China’s new National Alpine Ski Center – being cancelled each of the past two winters. Organizers will attempt to squeeze in 10 test events across all winter sports later this year.

"Of course it’s not ideal, but on the other hand we all know the circumstances and reasons why they haven’t been tested, so we have to accept this situation and deal with the challenges in a professional way," he says of the venues and race courses. "If we are doing the best that we can and a little bit more, then we will definitely make it in a positive way."

Arjes seeks to become the second Swedish president in the 97-year history of the FIS. Ivar Holmquist – considered one of the pioneers who introduced skiing to Sweden – led the organization from its inception in 1924 until 1934.

Johan Eliasch

Eliasch calls for sweeping change throughout FIS and says he will take immediate action concerning Beijing 2022 if elected on June 4.

"Travel restrictions permitting, I’ll be on a flight on the 5th of June to Beijing to meet the sports leadership and organizing committee to ensure that everything is on track," Eliasch says. "That’s going to be incredibly important, and not only that, but also to see what we can do to help grow participation in our sport post-Olympics.

Eliasch, 59, the chief executive of HEAD since 1995, has developed tight-knit relationships with many of the world’s top ski racers that the company sponsors. However, he says his plans are to develop the sport across all areas, competition and recreational.

"If we look at Sochi and PyeongChang, we had these great opportunities to grow our sport regionally, but we didn’t do anything about this," he said. "We need to be pro-active working together with nations to help them grow our sport for everyone’s benefit."

Eliasch says Asia is still an untapped market with tremendous opportunity, something that became even more evident to him while attending the FIS World Freestyle Skiing Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in March.

"When most people they think about skiing, they think about North America and the Alps and that’s pretty much it," Eliasch says. "The potential for ski areas in Asia is just mind-blowing. It is multiple times bigger than everything that exists today, but it has not been developed."

Addressing the National Ski Associations about the upcoming election, Eliasch says: "If you don’t want change, then I’m not your candidate. If you do want change, then I’m your choice."

Urs Lehmann

Lehmann, the Swiss Ski Federation president since 2006, refers to a recent conversation with his Nordic Director and Calgary 1988 Olympic champion Hippolyt Kempf, about the unknown factors of Beijing 2022.

"My uncomfortable feeling, which he says also is that we just have a plan, we have never seen or been there and we don’t know what to expect, so that’s a major concern for all of us," Lehmann says.

"The Winter Olympics still are the most important event for all of us, even if it is only every four years. For FIS and for all our athletes, this is the event over the next four years.

"Not knowing more then what we know right now, really gives me some discomfort," says Lehmann, regarding Beijing 2022.

As in his downhill racing days, Lehmann, 51, has an immediate game plan out of the start, should he become the third consecutive Swiss leader, following Kasper and Marc Hodler, of the FIS.

"The first thing for the new president – take the plane, if possible, and go to China to get a picture to see as much as possible. Whatever it takes, we have to make this happen, because this is so important for all of us.

"Honestly, I’m not exactly sure where they are now, but I know they are not where they should and we have to get them up to speed."

Sarah Lewis

Lewis, who was dismissed as FIS secretary general in October 2020 to what the federation attributed to "a complete loss of confidence" and "by a great majority vote", is supremely confident with the FIS and IOC’s Chinese partners.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that these are going to be outstanding Games – the facilities look excellent, yes, they weren’t able to do international test events and World Cups this season, but they did training events and continually in the education for the officials," Lewis says.

"The venues look fantastic and the legacy for winter sports is incredible, both from an infrastructure, but especially from actual engagement with the sport. There are now more resorts there than anywhere in the world.

"We have great opportunities both from a commercial aspect and massively increasing the whole global footprint of the sport."

Lewis emphasizes that she has made numerous visits to Beijing as a former member of the IOC’s Beijing 2022 coordination commission.

"We have to get everyone there – no one has been there for test events and no one knows what it looks like. I do," says the British sports leader. "I have been there multiple times and I’m very close to the organizing committee.

"We’re WeChatting regularly – we have a big group and I’m supporting and helping wherever possible from day zero."

Countdown to June 4

The election of the fifth FIS President will be held during the FIS Congress General Assembly on June 4, followed by the election of 16 FIS Council members. Each presidential candidate will be given the opportunity to provide a 10-minute virtual presentation prior to the vote.

Both the FIS president and council members are elected by the voting members of the FIS General Assembly, comprised of the 135 National Ski Associations and each holding between zero to three votes depending upon size. The term-length of all elected individuals extends until the 53rd FIS Congress, scheduled for late Spring 2022.

An absolute majority of valid votes is required to elect the FIS president, which essentially means the winner must have 50 percent of the vote plus one. While there could be a winner in the first round, it seems unlikely with four candidates running.

Each round, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated and the rounds continue until one candidate receives the absolute majority.

Homepage photo:Kitzbuehel Hahnenkamm

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli