The Hula Report: Gian Franco Kasper Did It His Way

(ATR) This week Kasper steps down after 43 years at FIS....73 years after attending his first Winter Olympics.

(ATR) You knew where to find him: the smoking corner just outside the front door of the IOC hotel.

Journalists looking for IOC member and International Ski Federation President Gian Franco Kasper often had to go no farther than the huddle of smokers forced outdoors.

His cigarette habit was just one of the markers that Kasper is among the last of an old school of Olympic sports leaders.

This week Kasper steps down after 43 years at FIS, first as secretary general, then as president. But today there’s no certainty as there was in 1998 that the title will stay in the hands of a Swiss.

Marc Hodler, who held the post for 27 years, designated Kasper as his successor. There is no such guarantee for this first contested presidential election in more than 50 years. While Swiss Ski Federation President Urs Lehmann is one of the four candidates, he has not been tapped for the presidency as might have been done under the old school style leadership.

As term limits and age limits take hold at federations, the remarkable 43-year tenure of Kasper at FIS is unlikely to be matched. Also unmatched: his experience at the Winter Olympics. He may be one of the few active winter sports officials who can claim attendance at every winter Games since 1948. Born in St. Moritz, Kasper had just turned four years old when his mother took him to events at their hometown Olympics.

Kasper’s candid and sometimes politically incorrect comments have at times roiled FIS. Speaking during a smoking break at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Kasper said he was ambivalent about adding women’s ski jumping to the Olympic program, citing questionable medical studies that the bodies of female jumpers couldn’t handle the toll.

He downplayed the impact of global warming on winter sports. In an impromptu chat with this reporter at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, Kasper claimed the icy cold Korean winter was ample evidence that winter sports were safe from rising temperatures. But in the same conversation he admitted that global warming was a reality.

Kasper has defended the IOC decision to award the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing as the only choice (Almaty, Kazakhstan, was the only other candidate). His observation that countries with strong central governments like China are best to host the Olympics drew fire a couple of years ago. At the same time he dismissed critics of the artificial snow that will be necessary to stage the alpine and Nordic ski events in 2022.

While provoking controversy, Kasper also acknowledges the challenges skiing faces. He notes the cost of the sport and the competition of electronic gaming for the attention of young people. New heroes for the sport are needed, he says.

Kasper declined comment for this article, saying he's keeping quiet ahead of the FIS elections.

Whether Kasper’s successor will be as outspoken remains to be seen., but none of the candidates appear to be as curmudgeonly as this last of the old school sports figures.

And they are probably all non-smokers, too.

Homepage photo: ATR

Reported by Ed Hula.