Urs Lehmann in the running for the FIS presidency

In an interview with Valentin Oetterli from the Keystone-ATS press agency, Urs Lehmann (51), the longstanding Swiss-Ski president, talks about being a candidate for the FIS presidency, his chances of being elected, and the person who should replace him at the head of the Swiss federation.

Urs Lehmann, you took your time to announce that you would be running as a candidate for the presidency of the FIS International Ski Federation. The time has come. Does this mean that you feel you have a good chance of becoming Gian Franco Kasper’s successor?
"I’ve analysed things and I believe that my chances of being elected aren’t bad.  We can keep the FIS presidency in Switzerland – although that’s been the case for the last 69 years already. But there’s no guarantee."

Marc Hodler from Bern was the FIS president for 47 years from 1951, and in 1998, Gian Franco Kasper from Graubünden succeeded him. And now Aargau’s Urs Lehmann could take over the helm. Some people are asking why trust should be placed in a Swiss president again ?
"Nationality, sex, colour of skin, none of this should matter. The person who is most suitable for the position should be elected. It’s up to me to convince the voters of my qualities and capacities. If at the end of the day they decide that they no longer want to place their confidence in a Swiss candidate, I’ll accept that."

During the many conversations that you’ve had during the past few months, which people and countries have shown they support you ?
"I can’t go into details. In fact, I’ve been interested in this position for quite a while, but I’ve always said that I wouldn’t do anything before Gian Franco Kasper resigned. In January, I went to see him and he was very open and transparent with me when discussing his situation - I knew a few things already, but not everything. I then made the effort to ask about the concerns of the associations who will be voting, and I thought about what I could do. As a result, I now know pretty much where I am, and which countries and regions are supporting me."

Why do you want to become FIS president ?
"For different reasons. I really enjoy my current position with Similasan (a company selling homeopathic products) and Swiss-Ski. But the FIS presidency is one of those opportunities that you probably only have once in your life. I’ve had the privilege of having such an opportunity once already in my life, when I became world downhill champion (1993). And now I’m convinced that I can make a success of this difficult and important task too. A lot of people can confirm that I’m up to the task. I feel there is great support on a national and international level."

What are the themes of your electoral campaign?
"I wrote a manifesto. It’s kind of my official electoral programme. It says, for example, that we must strengthen the sport. We have to find more enticing formats. The closer we get to this, the more athletes will have the chance to take part, and the more sponsors and money the system will create. These funds can then be reinvested into the sport. It’s an upward cycle and it’s something that we at Swiss-Ski have consistently followed. The second point is that if the sport is going to be more enticing, we have to be able to commercialise it more. For example, one subject that occurs to me is a tour in Asia. These markets are expanding – which is not the case in Europe. In real terms, there doesn’t have to be a revolution, but coherent evolution. This is important to me."

What are the other points in your manifesto?
"Governance has to be strengthened, for example, in regards to the questions of gender, and climate. Clear structures need to be created. The FIS also has to react proactively in the future. At the moment, it is still running behind on these issues, as Swiss skiing was at certain times, but we managed to regain control in order to take our destiny into our own hands.  I also want to see the FIS united and stronger. There are over 70 countries voting and in addition to this, 60 affiliated national federations, who don’t have the right to vote. Powerful federations have to stay powerful, while at the same time trying to strengthen the medium and weaker federations."

When you hear "FIS", what do you think of ?
"In my manifesto, it says: «Our future is strong». This expression has become my slogan. The FIS, as a governing body, is one of the strongest winter sports federations. Almost half of the medals awarded at the Winter Olympic Games are through sports managed by the FIS, so it has done a lot of good things in the past. The FIS has also had relatively few scandals and doping incidents in recent years. The association has a relatively positive image. Now it’s about bringing this solid construction into a new era. For me, it’s clear that things must change. At the beginning, there will be resistance, but I’m convinced that evolution is necessary and will happen."

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the FIS congress in Thailand, which should have been taking place in May, has been cancelled. The election of Gian Franco Kasper’s successor will now be taking place in autumn at the earliest. Do you regret the situation ?  
"All of the Covid-19 situation is a tragedy for humanity. For the FIS, where a change of generation was scheduled, it comes at the worst possible time. But we can’t do anything except wait and hope that the situation will be resolved before the traditional autumn meetings in Zurich."

Due to the postponement of the congress, your re-election as Swiss-Ski president is likely to take place at the delegates’ meeting in Frutigen at the end of June. Are you going to stand again ?  
"Yes, if it is possible for the delegates’ meeting to take place at that time. If I’m not elected FIS president, I’ll continue working for Swiss-Ski for another four years, but of course the association has succession planning.  At Swiss-Ski, we’re lucky that Peter Barandun (CEO and president of the board of directors of Electrolux Switzerland) is ready to take over office. But if it doesn’t work out between and the FIS and myself, I’ll remain president of Swiss-Ski, and him vice-president.

And what about Similasan?
"I’m definitely going to stay, but my role could change.This issue has already been discussed and feedback from the board of directors has been very supportive. Everything took place in the first quarter, because originally I wanted to announce my candidature at the World Cup finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo. »

Interview translation: Sarah Dunn

 Urs Lehmann, as the letter of intent for the Crans-Montana/Valais 2025 candidature is presented to Gian Franco Kasper, the FIS president.