Black Diamond: FIS Congress could see big changes
The International Ski Federation (FIS) is not known for dramatic transformation, but this spring may bring more change to the organization than has been seen for decades. On June 4, the biannual FIS Congress convenes in Antalya, Turkey where the assembled national governing bodies will elect 16 members to their Council. To a great extent, council elections of the past were formalities with perhaps only one or two seats changing hands. This congress, the organization’s 47th, should prove to be a dramatic departure for both political and actuarial reasons. With 26 candidates, the most in modern memory, vying for a council seats, Friday’s vote could be all telling as to the future direction of the FIS.
Five members of the Council are retiring or have been replaced by new nominees from their national federations. Assuming all other sitting council members seeking reelection are indeed re-seated, close to a third of the Council will be comprised of new additions. And, there are no assurances existing council members will be reelected. Conventional wisdom says candidates from the major alpine nations (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada, Norway, and Sweden) will be returned, though there is reason to claim such wisdom will not prevail at this congress.
While two of the candidates, Peter Schroeksnadel of Austria and Michael Vion of France, are past council members, their election will signal change as well. The outspoken and rough-edged Schroeksnadel has had trouble with both the IOC and the Austrian Olympic movement regarding a team doping scandal during the Torino Winter Games, which may give pause to a number of national governing bodies. Vion is young and outspoken regarding moving the FIS in new directions.
In this author's opinion, there will be a minimum of seven new council members when the votes are tallied and the council's geographic makeup could be altered noticeably. While the council is not elected by geography, there is no question that the congress members tend to look at geopolitical blocks in their selections. For the first time, The Chinese Ski Association is nominating a council candidate, Xiaojuan Yan. With China actively participating in snow sport and having enormous political and sport clout, Yan could very well be seated. With the candidate from China entering into the election one would assume that one of the seats now held by Korea and Japan would be lost. While it is not beyond reason that Asian nations would hold three seats, it is improbable
Then there is the Russian council member, Leonid Tyagachev, who recently resigned as head of the Russian Olympic Committee after a dismal Russian showing in Vancouver. Despite being a friend of Premier Vladimir Putin and with the 2014 Games in Sochi, could he be in trouble? It is doubtful but not beyond of the realm of possibility. The Italian candidate, Giovanni Morzenti, has had difficulties with the FIS and his own Federation, barely being re-elected as president. His re-election could be in play as well.
Also threatened is the seat currently held by the representative from the Czech Republic, Miran Jirasik, who is stepping down, though the new Czech candidate, Roman Kumpost, is considered to be a strong contender. Nevertheless the seat is being challenged geo-politically by candidates from Slovakia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary. A well-known candidate from a small nation, Croatia, is seen as a possibility to be voted on the council. Verdran Pavlek is extremely well known in Alpine circles for putting on one of the World Cup's premiere events in Zagreb, the nation’s capital but geographically he is up against Slovenia’s Janez Kocijancic, a long term council member who is among the most respected members of the current council. Newcomer Ihor Mitiukov from the Ukraine, a Morgan Stanley executive, is being discussed among the FIS cognoscenti as a potentially strong eastern European candidate as well.
FIS council voting is somewhat complex. There are 17 seats on the council, but only 16 are up as Gian Franco Kasper, the president, is running unopposed. In the FIS statutes, nations whose national governing bodies have 50,000 members or more can cast three votes each for their sixteen choices, associations with 10,000 members can cast 2 votes for 16 candidates and the remainder of NGB’s cast one vote for their selection of 16. For a number of years, this voting method gave nominal control of the council to the larger ski nations. Today, however, given the all-inclusive policy of the FIS, there are now over 107 member nations comprising the international governing body. This means that the "small" nations represent the majority of the congress and can wield true influence on the outcome of the council vote.
The FIS will also be affected by the passing of two giants of the FIS family in the past year. Germany's Fritz Wagnerberger, a respected member of the Council for almost four decades, passed away in March. Wagnerberger’s passing was a very real loss to the FIS. Not only was he the treasurer and CFO of the organization, he was a very close confidante of President Kasper as well as a close personal friend. Gone too is one of the most recognized stars in ski sport, Austria’s legendary Toni Sailer. Triple gold medal winner at the 1952 games in Cortina, Italy, Sailer went on to become a movie start while guiding the direction of alpine skiing as chair of the FIS Alpine Executive Committee for three decades.
No matter the outcome, the elections will spell the beginning of a generational change which will alter the international governing body’s approach to both business and sport. Things will not happen immediately but the initial genesis for the future will be launched by this congress. That is a certainty. G. B. Jr.