GENEVA (AP) — An open presidential election with several strong, first-time candidates is unusual for an international sports body.
It’s unique for the International Ski Federation (FIS) which on Friday has a first contested leadership election in its 97-year history. The dominant winter sports body in the Olympic family will elect a new leader at an online meeting of more than 100 national members.
Four candidates are competing to succeed 77-year-old Gian Franco Kasper, the Swiss former journalist who is leaving one year early from the office he has occupied since 1998.
The lineup is: Kasper’s protégé and FIS vice president Mats Arjes; Sarah Lewis, the woman Kasper fired after 20 years as his secretary general; the former men’s downhill world champion, Urs Lehmann; and Johan Eliasch, the billionaire chief executive of a top ski brand.
The race to be just the fifth FIS president shaped to be fascinating even before the COVID-19 pandemic twice delayed the election last year. Lewis was then ousted from her job by the FIS ruling council.
The pandemic also upended the usual campaign tactics and limited face-to-face lobbying.
“All my meetings have been virtual from my home office,” Lewis said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Lehmann, based in Switzerland like Lewis, has also relied on online meetings and phone calls, his campaign team said.
Eliasch, who runs the Head ski and tennis brands from London, declined to be interviewed about his campaign.
FIS uses an unusual election system that is weighted toward the bigger federations — three votes for some, two for others and one for smaller member nations.
Another quirk is that the winner faces re-election again in 2022.
Here’s a look at the four candidates:
All four candidates call for more gender balance at FIS. Only one of them could be its first female leader.
The council that abruptly fired Lewis in October has only one woman among 18 members before its fresh elections Friday.
Lewis competed at the 1988 Calgary Olympics in Alpine skiing for Britain, then was national team manager at two Winter Games. She then built a career as one of the foremost female officials in Olympic sports.
In her two decades at FIS, its Olympic program grew to include more than half of the 109 medal events at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
Her election support needs to build on working relations with past and future Olympic hosts. When British ski officials opted last year not to nominate Lewis, she turned to Belgium whose top Olympic official is a rising star in the IOC.
Britain’s nomination went to the well-connected Eliasch, a Swede who was an advisor to Boris Johnson when the British prime minister was mayor of London, and a former business associate of Prince Andrew.
His manifesto has an endorsement from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, now working on climate change issues, of Eliasch’s environment credentials.
Supporters include Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal among those who used Head skis in their careers.
Eliasch said he will step down as Head CEO if elected and not take a salary to run Switzerland-based FIS. His commercial ties still raised questions of potential conflicts of interest.
He offered perhaps the most detailed commercial strategy for FIS events and to modernize broadcasts.
Sweden’s nomination went to its other candidate, who also leads the national Olympic body.
Arjes is seen as Kasper’s choice and the candidate most representing continuity. He stepped up from running the Swedish ski federation to join the FIS Council 11 years ago and rose to be a vice president in 2018.
Arjes is another longtime CEO in the ski industry. For 17 years he ran resort group SkiStar which includes Are, host of the Alpine world championships in 2019.
A victory for the 1993 men’s downhill world champion would give FIS its third Swiss president in a row, going back more than 70 years.
Lehmann, who has a doctorate in economics, has led the Swiss ski federation since 2008. He is also a CEO, of a Swiss-based international homeopathic products firm.
The winner needs an absolute majority of the voting points. The contest looks set to go to a second round of voting, where the candidate who gets the lowest total in the first is eliminated.
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