Gian-Franco Kasper, the President of FIS for the past 23 years, will step down after a new candidate is elected at the FIS virtual FIS Congress on Friday, June 4th. The new President will be only the fifth person to hold that role since the inception of FIS in 1924. The elections come at an inflection point within the organization as it looks to navigate the ski sports under its governance into a new, post-pandemic era. Four candidates are vying to replace Kasper as the leader of world skiing.
Here is a brief look at each candidate and where they may take the organization in the future.
Titles: Swedish Olympic Committee President, and FIS Vice President.
Billed as the safe pair of hands to modernize FIS, Mats Årjes is Kasper’s preferred successor at FIS. He brings experience from a decade with FIS and 17 years as the CEO of SkiStar, which operates Scandinavia’s largest resorts. Årjes’ agenda is to review FIS practices, bring together stakeholders, promote ski sports more widely, and establish environmental standards for FIS events. As the mainstream candidate to take over FIS, Årjes has put forward a cautious, middle-of-the-road agenda that can be described as a gentle transition to a reformed FIS.
Opposition: Årjes has stated that if elected he will continue in his role as President of the Swedish Olympic Committee, and will hold dual presidencies. Whether or not Årjes will be distracted by his Olympic Committee duties and the potential for conflicts of interest remain a concern. As Kasper’s favored successor, he will need to win over delegates who are looking for change to come from outside of FIS.
Pet Campaign Promise: Environmental standards
Title: Swiss Ski President
Lehmann is running on the promise of replicating his leadership successes at Swiss Ski, both organizationally and financially, at FIS. Lehmann believes that FIS must be run more like a company, and suggests that the organization’s structure is outdated, telling SkiRacing.com that, “it has become dusty over the years.” In response, he proposes streamlining its product in the fashion of the IBU. “Things have been done in bits and pieces, but there is no clear system.”
He also promotes changing the tenor of its governance, telling Inside the Games, “FIS has to take the lead” when it comes to big issues such as the environment, human rights, and inclusivity. “What about transparency? What about gender diversity? People are talking about this, but there is no clear set of values and ethics,” Lehmann lamented to SkiRacing. Lehmann told Inside the Games that his solution was simple: “FIS has to take a clear position on all these big issues.”
Lehmann points to a possible source of future income from gaming. “The key word for me is E-gaming”, he has said, and points to FIFA—a popular soccer game—that helped keep the governing body of soccer fiscally afloat during the pandemic.
He advocates bringing a more muscular approach to FIS leadership in all respects: He wants more World Cup events to take place outside of Europe, a more efficient FIS that takes a strong stand on issues, and a more developed financial model for the sport. In short, Lehmann promises that FIS, under his presidency, will lead.
Opposition: If elected, Lehmann will be the third consecutive Swiss man to head the organization that has been run by Swiss men since 1951. The sentiment of those advocating for change suggests it is time for the 70-year reign of Swiss men at FIS to end. Lehmann has challenged this opposition by saying, “It’s not about nationality, change, or the color of your skin…It’s about the best person available in the world to take the role.”
Pet Project: E-gaming
You can learn more about Lehmann’s candidacy at this link.
Titles: CEO of HEAD
Eliasch, the billionaire CEO of ski company HEAD, and dual Swedish-British citizen is campaigning as the outsider and radical change agent in this election. His manifesto is expansive and he calls for, among other things, rethinking how ski events are produced. Viewer-friendly production that includes night races, interactive experiences, and content streaming are all part of his plan. He would like to take the FIS racing package in the direction of the PGA or Formula 1.
He sees a wider frame of view for FIS that engages smaller nations. Speaking to Skiracing he said, “We need to create level playing fields across the board when it comes to training opportunities, access, coaching development and move away from just alpine in Central Europe.”
When it comes to governance, Eliasch proposes a more active and transparent organization. He is in favor of term limits for the President and an advisory board of experts and specialized committees. “That is important so that people, our sponsors and stakeholders see we are an organization that is robust, transparent, gender diverse, diverse, open-minded and we’re going to make things happen,”
Eliasch calls for sweeping change to shepherd FIS into the 21st century, and argues that his success in the ski industry is the sort of outsider know-how the organization has been lacking.
Opposition: Eliasch summed up the reasons to vote against him best in his statement to delegates reported by Skiracing: “I have a vision and I can execute that vision. If you don’t want change, then I’m not your candidate. If you do want change, then I’m your choice.” The comfort of the status quo may prove difficult for some delegates to overcome.
Pet Project: Interactive content
You can learn more about Eliasch’s candidacy at this link.
Titles: Former Secretary General of FIS
Sarah Lewis has developed a manifesto she calls the “FIS piste map” for the future of the organization. The piste map is a part of her three-pillar strategy that will also offer national associations financial help in recovering from losses during the pandemic and reformed governance at FIS.
She is championing the possibilities of bringing in private equity investments to support World Cup skiing, and eyeing new revenue models including virtual reality, suggesting to Skiracing, “Wouldn’t you love to be in the eyes of that skier as she’s dropping into Cortina?” She points to expanding snowsports in new markets, with China as a key opportunity.
Opposition: Paradoxically Lewis is considered to be both the outsider and the status quo candidate. From 2000 – 2020 Lewis served as FIS Secretary General before being suddenly terminated from the position “based on a total lack of confidence”, according to a short-lived FIS statement.
FIS has provided no further information on the matter, but Dagbladet reported that her ouster had to do with a deteriorating relationship between Lewis and Kasper and other FIS officials that came to a head over poor work performance due to the amount of time Lewis was spending campaigning for president. Lewis, on a call with the AP, said she was shocked by her dismissal, saying, “I was probably blindsided that there were politics going on behind the scenes.” The decision to remove her from her post by the FIS Council has been reported by SVT and Nettavissen as being 15-1.
Lewis has been nominated by the Belgian Ski Federation after her home federation of Great Britain opted to nominate Eliasch. The Washington Times reported that she was positioning herself as the global candidate with support from Russia, China, and South Korea. Whatever truth lies behind her dismissal from FIS, a Lewis presidency is likely to be divisive within the organization.
Pet Project: Pandemic recovery funds for National Federations
You can learn more about Lewis’s candidacy at this link.
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Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.