New International Ski Federation president Johan Eliasch and secretary general Michele Vion addressed media in person for the first time on the eve of the season-opening World Cup Alpine ski races in Soelden, Austria.
Numerous topics delved into included the Olympic season ahead, boosting athlete prize money, commercial aspects of the sport, streamlining television and digital rights, innovative new formats and night races, the federation’s new Rainforest Initiative and its leading IF position with a sustainable environmental focus, and of course, the rapidly approaching Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“If we look at the season ahead of us, the Winter Olympics in Beijing are of course the highlight the year – China has has made the development of skiing and snowboarding a priority, an initiative to bring 300 million people to ice and snow sports,” Eliasch told journalists in Soelden.
“The opening of the FIS China Liaison Office is our response to this goal. It helps us work directly on the ground and to support the Chinese Ski Federation in its ambitious goal, which in itself, is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our sport.”
Despite multiple cancellation of international test events for both men and women at China’s National Alpine Skiing Center in Yanqing due to Chinese travel restrictions due to the pandemic, Eliasch affirmed his confidence in the various FIS race directors working alongside Chinese organizers to deliver successful races on largely untested slopes.
“We will have some test events for some of the disciplines,” Eliasch noted.
The FIS leader announced that he plans to travel to China towards the end of November or early December in order to meet with Chinese counterparts and members of the Chinese Olympic Committee.
“Of course with such a big event there is a concern, but at the same time I’m not too worried because we have such a great team of people, such great experience when it comes to organising evens,” Eliasch said, referring to FIS race directors.
“We are cautious in our approach and this will be one of those occasions – its like you’re a pilot and you have one place to land, so you focus on that landing, and that’s exactly what we’ll do,” he said.
Vion noted that the FIS has just received the IOC Playbook yesterday, outlining rules, procedures, health precautions and other countermeasures to deliver a safe and secure Winter Games in February. The French secretary general outlined some of the main points and discussed the mandatory Covid vaccination requirements.
“We now have more information about Beijing rules and process,” Vion said. “The idea is to arrive in Beijing with all athletes in good shape, that’s why we have the same protocols more or less as last year, and then in Beijing we all know they are asking for double vaccination for all athletes, staff, trainers and so-called ‘Red Bubble.’
“But they are still open at the moment to see exceptions with medical reasons.
“I would say Beijing is not more (difficult) than Canada could be or other countries, so at the moment we are quite OK with Beijing, we know the rules and work so all the athletes, teams and the National Olympic Committees are well aware to think differently.”
The FIS Rainforest Initiative and becoming carbon neutral
Eliasch, who is a leading expert on solutions to issues caused by climate change, having previously advised the UK Government on Deforestation and Clean Energy, proudly announced a new FIS initiative on Friday.
“FIS is today announcing the launch of our FIS Rainforest Initiative, which will offset the FIS carbon footprint many times over by supporting many deforestation projects that protect rainforests in several regions and communities in the Amazon,” Eliasch revealed.”It’s a top priority for FIS and commitment recognizing that stopping rainforest destruction has to be a priority for us all,” he said.
Eliasch also emphasized the FIS commitment to helping to preserve the planet: “I believe we will be one of the first, if not the first to be carbon neutral by 2021-2022.”
Eliasch said FIS is also currently evaluating its World Cup race calendar and 7,000 competitions in terms of attractiveness, but also in terms of climate protection
“To minimize our carbon footprint and to be carbon neutral was a commitment I made in my manifesto,” said Eliasch. “Today, it is becoming a pre-requisite in becoming an attractive sport, particularly for the younger generation.
“De-carbonizing is not easy but FIS are committed to minimizing its carbon footprint in every possible manner, and this starts with initiatives to reduce travel by optimizing competition calendars and arranging training activities in closer proximities.”
Future of the new FIS and the season ahead
Eliasch revealed that he visited former FIS president Gian Franco Kasper in the hospital prior to his death and Kasper told him that he was excited to see a new leader with the extensive commercial background that Eliasch possesses leading the sport into the future.
“It’s pretty gutsy for Michele or myself to sit here say we have all the confidence, even without the test events, that in Beijing things will run smoothly, but all of this confidence is thanks to Gian Franco,” Eliasch said.
Summarizing future goals and for the season ahead, Eliasch said top priorities include achieving best exposure for the sport, holding safe races, great audiences, more attractive formats, increasing night races, less travel on the international calendars and bringing races to new locations.
Eliasch said the FIS financial situation is in good shape with close to 200 million Swiss Francs in liquid assets.
The world’s premier female ski racers have honors kicking out of the start gate with a giant slalom on Saturday and three-time overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin first on course, followed by the men attacking the lengthy, steep and knee-jarring Rettenbach Glacier course on Sunday.
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