Liam Morgan

It appears contested elections in the Olympic Movement are a bit like buses.

Having waited an age for International Federations (IF) to move away from a pattern of re-electing Presidents by acclamation, two Summer Olympic bodies are set to buck that trend by holding votes with more than one candidate later this year. Yes, really.

World Sailing and World Triathlon are set to follow World Rugby in having an actual vote this year following recent confirmation that respective Presidents, Kim Andersen and Marisol Casado, will be challenged when they bid to retain their posts.

The International Tennis Federation also had a contested election less than a year ago, but they remain rare in a world which favours soft autocracy over healthy democracy.

The statistics still highlight how incumbents have largely enjoyed a comfortable re-election into their Presidential seats. Nearly two-thirds of Presidents who lead a sport on the programme at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games stood unchallenged to secure their current term in office.

Andersen, who himself unseated a sitting President when he was elected in 2016, and Casado have been left wishing for such a seamless retention of their positions. Their opponents have clearly not got the memo – standing against an incumbent just isn’t how it is done.

World Sailing President Kim Andersen, left, is facing three challengers in this year's election ©World Sailing
World Sailing President Kim Andersen, left, is facing three challengers in this year's election ©World Sailing

World Sailing has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons, so it is not surprising that its President is being challenged in the upcoming election.

At least two separate allegations of ethical wrongdoing, which Andersen denies, have surfaced in recent weeks, while the Dane had been accused of leading World Sailing into a financial mire even before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the global economy.

World Sailing vice-presidents Scott Perry and Quanhai Li, and Spaniard Gerardo Seeliger are set to join Andersen on the ballot for the November 1 election having declared their intention to stand for the role.

In some ways, their candidacies reflect both well and poorly on Andersen. Put simply, if he was doing such a good job - the preferred argument from Federations when their President is re-elected unopposed - then he would not have any opponents.

The fact that he does, however, suggests the culture among the membershio at World Sailing under Andersen is better than other IFs, whose Presidents have been allowed to reign for decades unchallenged.

It had been widely assumed that Casado, the only female head of a Summer Olympic IF, would become the latest to be given a fresh four-year term unopposed.

World Triathlon President Marisol Casado, second from right, is a well respected IOC member ©Getty Images
World Triathlon President Marisol Casado, second from right, is a well respected IOC member ©Getty Images

The Spaniard has been at the helm of World Triathlon since 2008, when she was chosen as the second leader of the organisation, then called the International Triathlon Union.

Two years later, she was elected - rubber-stamped - as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and has only once faced an opponent, overcoming South Korea's Kyung-sun Yu in the 2012 Presidential election.

Casado is considered a well-respected member of the IOC and has been given several important positions within the organisation by its President Thomas Bach during her decade-long stint as part of sport’s most exclusive club.

The Spaniard was re-elected for an eight-year term as an IOC member in 2018 but her time with the body will come to an end if she suffers defeat in the election, an eventuality the IOC is probably keen to avoid, as it is tied to her position as World Triathlon President.

The IOC may say it does not interfere in the democratic processes of IFs but is known to stick by its own.

Facing this hurdle is Denmark’s Mads Freund, a former triathlete and coach turned businessman who revealed to insidethegames today that he will be running for President during the World Triathlon Congress, scheduled for November 1.

The head of Triathlon Denmark had been mulling over a run for the top job before putting his intention on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Freund has since revived his interest in becoming President and announced his candidacy in front of an audience including Casado at a virtual meeting of the European Triathlon Union today.

The COVID-19 crisis, and the worldwide travel restrictions it has brought, has seemingly made life more difficult for the Dane and those seeking to unseat Andersen in the sailing election.

Campaigning can be tricky at the best of times, but doing so during a pandemic is an even more unenviable task.

Contested elections in the Olympic Movement remain a rarity ©Getty Images
Contested elections in the Olympic Movement remain a rarity ©Getty Images

There will be no in-person breakfast meetings at the crack of dawn, no face-to-face canvassing of the mood among the electorate and no frantic late-night working of the bar on the eve of the vote, all hallmarks of an election campaign.

More generally, there are less opportunities to persuade voters that they are a better person for the job than the incumbent.

While this may also apply to the current President, it has arguably a bigger impact on those aiming to defeat them.

Not only can the incumbent point to their track record and achievements in office, even if they may be disputed by their opponents, but they could also lean on the fact a global health crisis is hardly a time conducive to change.

Both World Sailing and World Triathlon’s elections are set to take place virtually in response to the pandemic, which has impacted the governance of numerous IFs, both inside the Olympic Movement and out.

It remains to be seen whether Andersen and Casado can drive into new terms or if their adversaries will be wheeling away in celebration, but at least they are not the only vehicles on the road.