Four candidates, one job: How do the FIS President candidates stack up?

The vote for the new President of FIS should have taken place in 2020 at the FIS Congress but due to Covid, it was put back a year and now it is crucial election for the future of FIS, the International Ski Federation. Four candidates, three men and one woman have secured the backing of at least one National Ski Association to put themselves in the frame for taking on the role that Gian-Franco Kasper has held since 1998. Voting takes place on 4 June.

2021 will see FIS elect its first President of the 21st century, only the fifth President since FIS was established 97 years ago. Kasper’s entry on Wikipedia states: ‘Kasper also served as a member of the International Olympic Committee (2000–2018) and serves as member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (since 2003).

‘Kasper then went into the tourism industry in 1974, establishing a Swiss tourism office in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The following year, he became Secretary-General of the FIS by then-President Marc Hodler, a position in which he served until Hodler's retirement in 1998. Kasper succeeded Hodler as FIS President, a position he has held since.’

These are big boots to fill and the new incumbent has choices to make: Does FIS continue down the existing route or take a more exciting direction that will see FIS react to the current climate in terms of technology, media rights, climate change and a host of other areas?

Årjes, Eliasch and Lehmann are also among the 20 nominated candidates for the FIS Council should they not be elected.

The FIS President and FIS Council are elected by the voting members of the FIS Congress General Assembly, which is comprised of the National Ski Associations. The term-length of all elected individuals is until the 53nd FIS Congress, scheduled for late Spring 2022.

So how do the candidates stack up?

The four candidates are all exceptional people and have interesting pasts and presents. Urs Lehman is the current boss of the Swiss Ski Federation and ex World Cup Downhill Champion, Johan Eliasch is the owner and CEO at Head, Mats Arjes is the boss of the Swedish Ski Federation and Sarah Lewis is the ex Secretary-General of FIS and a past boss of the British Ski Federation (now GB Snowsport).

Lehman sets out his manifesto with a bold statement: “I want to see a united FIS, one that serves both athletes and National Ski Associations, big or small, and delivers great sport and sports events in all our disciplines globally.”

Eliasch goes bold with his statement in his manifesto: “Change for the sake of change is not my approach. Incremental, step by step reform, is my preference. So, if you want to take advantage of the changing landscape of professional sport and the media opportunities that abound, in addition to the current activities of FIS, then I am your candidate.”

The Swedish Billionaire adds: “If maintaining the status quo is your preference, then other candidates will be a better choice.”

Årjes takes a more conservative approach to looking at the future and as maybe the candidate less well known to the general public, may struggle against the other three more high profile candidates. The negative impact that skiing has on the environment is a key cornerstone of his manifesto.

Lewis states in her lengthy manifesto “We are now the beacon for winter sports after reaching our biggest milestone in Olympic history with six of the 15 disciplines and 55 of the 109 events on the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games programme dedicated to the disciplines governed by FIS,” and this underlines the importance of the role the new President will have in taking the sport forward.

Urs Lehman explains that “The rapid development of new technology has triggered a revolution in how fans consume sport,” adding “To stay relevant to spectators, sponsors and broadcasters, FIS must focus on staging events that attract wide interest and provide a top-quality experience for athletes, fans, media and commercial partners – be it onsite, online or on TV.” And this is important in the future for the sport.

One cloud on the horizon for Lehman is will the Wengen issue cloud his bid? Wengen’s place on the FIS World Cup calendar was under threat due to a disagreement over the control of sponsorship rights.

While all the candidates recognise the need for enticing new participants into winter sport, both as participants and as commercial partners, the extent to which they will go to achieve this is key. Eliasch certainly has the most interesting proposals with the rest rather more conservative in their approaches. Eliasch has a proven track record in pushing the boundaries in achieving success as can be seen with his ownership of Head.

Eliasch has published three documents over the past nine months to generate dialogue with National Snowsport Associations (NSAs). "During my interactions with many of you, the vast majority favour FIS increasing its investment in our NSAs and seeking to grow recreational and athletic participation globally," Eliasch wrote, adding “Across our multiple disciplines and formats, if we optimise our commercial rights, we will create a virtuous circle of funding for new investment opportunities.

"Significant new thinking needs to be applied to how we deal with television rights, streaming rights and social media more broadly.”

While the other three candidates are all successful in their own rights and in their own spheres, how the vote will go is tough to predict. Eliasch is certainly the most innovative in terms of what he wants to change and modernise; Årjes is more on the environmental platform with Lehman sitting more on the conservative, almost staying as we are, platform and Lewis trying to bring the smaller nations more into the fold.

Lewis, who was the Secretary General of FIS until October 2020. ”It was a brutal decision [by the FIS Council] but since then I have taken the time for reflection and I have taken the opportunity to become a more accomplished and a better leader and person," said Lewis.

Lehman is keen to expand the position of winter sport in the Far East, a relatively untapped market he feels.

How the vote goes on June 4 will be interesting. Will the major nations support one of their own in Lehman or will there be a recognition that the sport needs to evolve and react to the new technologies and ideas, as proposed by Eliasch and Lewis.

Årjes will secure the environmental support from the Nordic countries it could be assumed while Lewis will be hoping that she can secure the support of the smaller nations that have reached out to her since she left FIS.

Big questions need to be addressed that will define the future of the sport and who the Council deem the right person will say a lot about the direction FIS and the winter sports it governs, takes.

Read their manifestos

Mats Arjes - nominated by the Swedish Ski Federation

Johan Eliasch - nominated by GB Snowsport

Sarah Lewis - nominated by the Belgian Ski Federation

Urs Lehman - nominated by the Swiss Ski Federation

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