In case you missed it, there was a huge explosion inside the Olympic Movement last week after an interview with Federation Internationale de Ski President Gian-Franco Kasper appeared in the Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger.
Kasper, a Swiss now 75, has been with the FIS since 1975. He was Secretary-General from 1975-98 and then became its President in 1998 and remained in office ever since. Sports Editor Rene Hauri asked a wide range of questions as the World Alpine Championships began in Sweden, and Kasper had some ready answers.
The article was headlined – according to a computerized translation from the original German – “In dictatorships it is easier for us.” And there were highlights that made headlines, including:
● Asked who is still interested in ski racing, he replied, “Especially people over 40. It is interesting that this age remains the same for years, contrary to all claims.”
● Hauri stated that the FIS and skiing are the same as they were 50 years ago, and wouldn’t a more aggressive marketing push make more money? Kasper’s answer: “We do not care about making as much money as possible. Marketing to generate money for sports? At any time! But to generate money from sports, we do not do that. We are first and foremost advertising agency for winter tourism.”
That’s a comment worth noting and a worth considering from the point of view of all international sports.
● Hauri asked a series of questions about environmentalism and the impact of skiing, which Kasper rejected, making a series of comments about climate change which were immediately jumped on in coverage of the interview, but which Kasper says were misinterpreted.
Some of the follow-up questions were about the environmental impact of skiing venues in PyeongChang in 2018 and in Beijing for 2022. About last year’s Games, which included a controversial alpine course carved out of a nature reserve, Kasper spoke truth: “The Olympic Committee has awarded the games to South Korea. For us it would have been no problem to make the [event] in Japan. Only I understand the Koreans, who ask why not they too should have the right to tourist ski slopes.”
And about Beijing, he noted that “Everything is already there. This is not a problem.” Pressed by Hauri if he approved of having Winter Games in China, he answered “No, but if these countries do something for skiing and the mountain people there, I do not mind” and added – as a former member of the International Olympic Committee, now retired by the age limit – “I can understand that there are people who say that we need to harness the potential of China. What is being built in China is pure madness. Only in Switzerland, that was also done, only it took us 150 years. If the countries make it in five years, of course, it will be noticeable. The 51 billion euros invested in the games of Sochi are crazy. But that was not cheaper with us.”
● Asked if the Winter Games is still relevant, he opined, “The gigantism is huge. That’s why we no longer find any candidates, it’s too expensive, too big – was this all needed? There are too many sports, it all costs a fortune.”
Pressed on whether the Olympics is even a good idea, Kasper was clear: “The interest in sports is increasing, Olympia provides for entertainment. The joy and sadness, the patriotism – it makes the Games unique.”
● The headline came from Kasper’s answer to Hauri’s questions about European cities rejecting Winter Games bids. Kasper noted that countries with dictatorships can bid more easily than democracies, and “It’s just that it’s easier for us in dictatorships. From the business side, I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I do not want to argue with environmentalists.”
He added that his willingness to do events in such countries is not unlimited. “Not everything that is reported is true. Sport can also be a door opener, maybe we made a contribution to the opening of North Korea in Pyeongchang with the united team Korea. But, I do not want to go to a country, invest in skiing there, while the population starves, I draw the red line. If Qatar announces tomorrow for the Olympics, then I am against.”
Well, Kasper made quite a stir, and in his welcome message for the Worlds in Alpine, Freestyle, Snowboard and Nordic events, he included “Recently, a report surfaced in the Swiss media with several controversial comments attributed to me. First and foremost, I would like to apologise as these comments were not meant to be taken literally but this was not clear in the final story. I take full responsibility for this misunderstanding and am sorry it has taken attention away from our athletes competing in the FIS World Championships.”
But the interesting aspect was not the interview, but the aftermath.
The International Olympic Committee’s view was the most important. In a comment sent to the Around the Rings Web site, IOC spokesman Mark Adams (GBR) commented, “We would welcome any proposals to reduce the size of the Olympic Winter Games from FIS, which is responsible for nearly half of the quota of athletes at the Games.”
That’s the key outcome of this otherwise inconsequential mess. The IOC put it to FIS directly: if you want to reduce the size of the Games, go ahead and do so.
Of the 2,922 athletes registered for the 2018 Winter Games, FIS competitions accounted or 1,306 of them, or 44.7%:
● 322: Alpine
● 313: Cross Country
● 268: Freestyle
● 248: Snowboard
● 100: Ski Jumping
● 55: Nordic Combined
Can this number be cut? Absolutely. Do we really need 106 in the men’s Slalom? Or 78 in the women’s Slalom? Or 119 men in the 15 km Cross Country Freestyle race? How about 90 women in the 10 km Freestyle?
No, we can do with less … and the coaches, medical staff, transport teams and others who accompany them.
This is Kasper’s opening to change the Winter Games to make it more manageable … if he dares. This is not what International Federations do; they always ask for more events and more athletes, and the FIS is no exception. But here is the opening to make a real change.
Will he? Probably not, but as they say in chess, the next move is his.