Liam Morgan

In the words of Irish soft-rock band The Script, Gian-Franco Kasper has often resembled the man who can’t be moved during his reign as International Ski Federation (FIS) President.

Kasper has been re-elected to the top job at the worldwide body on no fewer than five occasions since being hand-picked to succeed Switzerland's Marc Hodler in 1998.

The 75-year-old Swiss official has barely faced a challenger during that time and has been regularly clapped into a fresh term by the organisation’s membership, allowing him to retain control of the FIS for over two decades.

Much like other longstanding Presidents in the Olympic world, Kasper - born a year before the end of the Second World War - was always going to be given the opportunity to pick his own exit date, and he has chosen May 2020 as the time for his departure.

There are those within the skiing community, and further afield, who believe it should have come much earlier as the veteran sports administrator has never been far from controversy during his 22-year tenure.

Much of this has largely been his own doing. Kasper has often bucked the trend of silence favoured by plenty of his International Federation counterparts and other Olympic officials by being honest, too honest if you sit on the communications side of the fence.

It remains a mystery why the FIS and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have not permanently employed someone purely to follow him around and make sure he doesn’t say the wrong thing.

Gian-Franco Kasper will stand down as FIS President after 22 years in the job ©Getty Images
Gian-Franco Kasper will stand down as FIS President after 22 years in the job ©Getty Images

Kasper can usually be found smoking outside of the venue hosting whatever meeting he is attending and is regularly cut off from the rest of his fellow sports officials, much to the benefit of the media.

His willingness to speak openly, and without being flanked by watchful and nervous PR representatives, is an admirable trait amid the placid nature of many of his fellow sports officials, but has landed him in hot water on more than one occasion.

The example which always springs to mind is during an inspection visit of the Coordination Commission for last year’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang in March 2017.

A colleague of mine at the time travelled to the remote South Korean resort and caught a brief word with Kasper after a cigarette break.

At a time of high tension in the Olympic Movement, Kasper, then a member of the IOC Executive Board, compared calls to ban Russia from Pyeongchang 2018 with the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Kasper apologised soon after in a hastily issued statement from the IOC.

Kasper’s list of misdemeanours grew when he gave an interview with a Swiss-German newspaper earlier this year.

The FIS President referred to "so-called" climate change - somewhat ironic given how his sport is arguably one of the most affected by rising temperatures across the globe - and claimed it was easier to organise the Olympics in a dictatorship.

The 75-year-old Swiss is an honorary member of the IOC ©Getty Images
The 75-year-old Swiss is an honorary member of the IOC ©Getty Images

Kasper’s comments on climate change, where he suggested he would rather deal with dictators than environmentalists, were met with calls for him to resign as FIS President from a group of winter sports athletes.

He displayed further irony when he claimed the Winter Olympics needed to be scaled down in size, a quote met with inherent disdain from the IOC, which pointed out the amount of quota places used up by the FIS at the Games.

Norwegian Alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal, a double Olympic gold medallist, was among those to speak out against Kasper’s words, claiming they were "stupid" and "complete gibberish".

Back in 2005, Kasper made a series of ill-advised remarks about women’s ski jumping, a discipline only added to the Olympic programme at Sochi 2014. "Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view," he said.

More generally, remaining President of any organisation for 22 years hardly screams good governance.

International Federations often claim that the reason they have stayed so long is testament to what they have achieved, but it also exudes a negative perception at a time where they are being urged to refresh and re-energise their administration.

The FIS was established nearly a century ago, but Kasper’s successor will be just the fifth President in its 95-year history.

Gender equality is another area where the FIS has hardly led the way - it is not the only one, in fairness - and recent changes to the composition of its Council to include a minimum of three women, set to come into effect at the same Congress in Thailand where Kasper will stand down, are long overdue.

At present, the FIS Council has no officially elected female members as Sarah Lewis and Hannah Kearney sit on the ruling body in their respective functions of secretary general and Athletes’ Commission representative.

Freestyle skiing is among the disciplines to have blossomed during Gian-Franco Kasper's time as President ©Getty Images
Freestyle skiing is among the disciplines to have blossomed during Gian-Franco Kasper's time as President ©Getty Images

At the risk of portraying Kasper’s reign as a disaster owing to his tendency for imprudent quotes, it is worth highlighting the developments he has overseen at the FIS since taking charge.

The sport is a dominant part of the Winter Olympics. A total of five of its disciplines - Alpine, cross-country, freestyle, ski jumping and snowboarding - offer athletes the chance to win Olympic medals, while the number of skiing medal events at the Games stands at over 50, far more than any other winter sport.

Alpine competitions in particular have become a staple of the programme, with the men’s and women’s downhill frequently dubbed as the Winter Games' equivalent of the 100 metres.

World Cups in the discipline are spoken of in glowing terms by journalists and fans alike, especially the famous night race in Schladming in Austria.

Freestyle skiing and snowboarding have also blossomed during Kasper’s Presidency, while other typically traditional disciplines such as cross-country have grown to embrace youth-orientated events.

The number of members of the global governing body has risen to 133 and includes the well-known skiing destinations of American Samoa, Guyana and Eswatini, among others.

Unfortunately for Kasper, for some the above achievements will largely be overshadowed by the controversies to have blighted his reign.

Still, his departure will leave a considerable void and will herald a new era for one of the oldest sports bodies in the world.

Kasper's decision not to complete his current four-year term represents an opportunity for fresh leadership and ideas at the FIS - one it desperately needs - so it is no surprise to see the rumour-mill already spinning with potential candidates in what is sure to be a fascinating race.