Billionaire Johan Eliasch, CEO, elected head of the World Ski Federation


Johan Eliasch, Chairman of the Board of the HEAD Group, celebrates in March on the podium of the final of the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup, in Parpan-Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The billionaire businessman has been elected president of the International Ski Federation.
Jean-Christophe Bott / Keystone via AP

GENEVA – Billionaire businessman Johan Eliasch was elected president of the International Ski Federation on Friday, promising to bring new racing formats and more dynamic broadcasts to winter sports.

Eliasch, longtime CEO of the ski and tennis brand Head, won a majority of 65 of the 119 votes from the national ski federations in the first ballot.

“I think it shows the FIS family is ready for a change,” Eliasch said of his clear victory over three opponents. “I’ve always said, ‘If you want things to stay the way they are, I’m not your candidate.'”

Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal were among the star athletes who have raced Head skis during their careers to support their former boss with video messages during 10-minute presentations made by each candidate.

Eliasch’s credentials on climate change issues that pose a major challenge for skiing were endorsed in his manifesto by former US Secretary of State John Kerry.

A Swede who runs Head from London, Eliasch pledged during his campaign to quit his post if elected.

“I will be stepping down as Managing Director of Head,” Eliasch told reporters at an online press conference after his victory, “and if there are any decisions that present a potential conflict of interest, I will will challenge of course. “

Eliasch seems ready to keep his financial stake in Head. He did not directly respond to a repeated question whether he would sell his shares, although he added: “If we have phenomenal success for FIS, it will benefit all stakeholders”.

He is only the fifth president of the FIS in 97 years of history and succeeds Gian Franco Kasper. The former Swiss journalist had held the post since 1998 and left a year early.

The next FIS election is slated for a year after Eliasch oversaw more than half of the 109 medal events at the Beijing Olympics in February.

Eliasch beat former Swiss downhill world champion Urs Lehmann, former FIS General Secretary Sarah Lewis of Great Britain and FIS Vice President Mats Arjes of Sweden, who had been Kasper’s preferred choice .

The new president has promised to give lower ranked federations among the 135 FIS members more voice in decision making and more chances to host events.

Eliasch acknowledged that “it is true that I am an alpine skier”, although the FIS portfolio also includes cross-country skiing, freestyle disciplines, snowboarding, ski jumping and Nordic combined.

On Friday, he pledged to centralize media rights for FIS assets and start work “as soon as possible” on revising race formats and how to modernize their presentation to viewers.

Two electoral rivals, Lehmann and Arjes, have won the elections for seats on the ruling FIS Council and will work with Eliasch, who will chair it.

Lewis was only running for president. She is leaving the Swiss-based governing body where she served as General Secretary for 20 years and one of the most prominent women in Olympic sport leadership. His dismissal last October was orchestrated by Kasper.

“I will remain at the forefront of demonstrating the importance of innovations and partnerships in sport, and their positive impact on society, as well as the advancement of women to leadership positions,” said Lewis in a statement.

An alpine skier for Great Britain at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Lewis forged close ties with China, host of the Winter Games, and is an honorary professor at Peking University of Sports.


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