Turned off just before the finish line – sport
The finish line was finally in sight, the verdict was expected for the coming week, and the excitement was high. It doesn’t happen that often that the President of the World Ski Association Fis is dragged before the International Sports Court (Cas) – by the three major national associations from Switzerland, Austria and Germany, who doubt whether Johan Eliasch, said Fis -President, was even lawfully dressed in office and dignity. But now the associations have swung short of the goal and withdrawn their lawsuit. The files are closed.
That comes as quite a surprise. The fronts between Eliasch and the national associations have recently seemed so tough that it was difficult to use strength formulas from physics as comparison values. In May 2022, various delegates, including the three major national associations, boycotted Eliasch’s re-election. Roughly speaking, they felt the procedure surrounding the candidate was undemocratic.
“We did not withdraw the lawsuit because our legal opinion has changed,” says Stefan Schwarzbach, board member of the German Ski Association (DSV). Rather, one had to recognize that the Cas procedure “overlays the coordination processes in day-to-day business, sometimes even blocks them”. This damages the development of skiing more and more every day. Freely translated: One makes another attempt to pull oneself together in the service of the cause.
Can that work?
The conflict had been escalating for over a year
The conflict escalated for the first time before the election last May. Eliasch had taken the place of the late Fis President Gian Franco Kasper about a year earlier, and he had quickly aroused resentment. It was often said that the president made decisions in a small circle, made a lot of promises and delivered few concrete things, even if Eliasch always rejected it. Much was bundled in the question of how winter sports should market its TV rights in the future – and with it the big money. Fis wants the rights – which she says are exclusive to her anyway – to be bundled centrally as quickly as possible. She promised that this would generate more money for all national associations. With which concept and according to which key, many associations could not really recognize until the end. National associations such as the DSV have passed on their rights through intermediaries, sometimes for years. Should the Fis abruptly take over the business, there would be a risk of lawsuits and high costs – that, the DSV also argued, could cause the existential foundations of many associations to slip.
In Milan, when Eliasch was re-elected, the conflict escalated. The owner of the ski manufacturer Head had just presented his specific plans to the Fis Council, which, to put it kindly, caused displeasure among many delegates. This happened, purely by chance, just after the deadline by which an opposing candidate for the presidency of the FIS could have been nominated. In any case, the delegates in Milan only had the choice of voting for Eliasch or abstaining – the Fis statutes do not provide for a no. The plaintiff associations argued that this alone could not be covered by Swiss association law, to which Fis is subject. The Fis countered at the time that she was confident that everything was in accordance with Fis paragraphs and Swiss law. All allegations by the national associations are “completely devoid of value and substance”.
What had been simmering beneath the surface until then had now broken open. And both sides then continued to arm themselves, with words and deeds. The plaintiffs announced a spicy cooperation in January in Kitzbühel, at the most important alpine event of the year next to the world championships. As a vehicle, they looked to the organization of the Alpine Ski Associations (OPA), an alliance that was forged in 1972 and organizes competitions, especially for youngsters; in addition to Switzerland, Austria and Germany, France and Italy are also represented. In Kitzbühel, the OPA announced that Roswitha Stadlober, President of the Austrian Ski Association (ÖSV), will head the alliance in future, and DSV President Franz Steinle as one of two Vice Presidents. Marketing, organization, competition formats, you want to work on all of that even more closely. Other countries have also expressed an interest in joining the alliance. You probably had to read it like this: We stand together – and if it should come to a break with the Fis, we are prepared for everything.
And now, from the rubble of these conflicts, the turn to the peace summit?
A round table is to be scheduled for the Alpine World Cup finals
There have been many discussions in the past few weeks, said DSV board member Stefan Schwarzbach on request. Above all, the request from members of the Fis Council, of which Eliasch is a member, to approach the Fis to set up a round table. Since the Fis agreed to the request – in writing – the procedure before the Cas was discontinued as a sign of the declaration of intent, said ÖSV General Secretary Christian Scherer in the Austrian media. A first meeting is already planned for this week, at the Alpine World Cup finals in Andorra.
There would be at least a lot to discuss, apart from the big lines: What does the alpine calendar actually look like for the coming season? On which weekend does Kitzbühel take place? What about other sports besides alpine? And with proceedings by the Fis ethics committee against representatives who had opposed Eliasch, allegedly after complaints from other member associations? Eliasch confirmed last fall that these procedures exist.
Fis initially left an SZ inquiry about the new developments unanswered.