Duncan Mackay

It is almost unheard of for the President of an International Federation in the Olympic Movement to be unseated after only one term, let alone one with almost unlimited resources, but that is what happened yesterday at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).

Vladimir Lisin, one of Russia's richest men with a reported fortune of $25.4 billion (£21.2 billion/€24.6 billion), became only the second man in the ISSF's 115-year history not to win a second term as President when he was beaten by Italy’s Luciano Rossi by 136 votes to 127.

The last time I can think of when a sitting President of an Olympic International Federation was defeated was in 2017 when Britain's Brian Cookson was beaten by Frenchman David Lappartient.

Cookson, who had been elected in 2013 to replace Ireland's Pat McQuaid when the sport was still licking its wounds after the Lance Armstrong era, suffered a humiliating defeat by 37 votes to eight as his campaign haemorrhaged support and he suffered one of the widest election defeats by a head of any International Federation.

Lisin had refused to step down, even temporarily as ISSF President, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the attack on Ukraine, Lisin drew positive attention around the world when he wrote to the staff of Novolipetsk, the steel company he owns, condemning the war in a letter shared on social media. The steel tycoon wrote that "the death of people in Ukraine is a tragedy that is hard to justify or explain" and urged Putin and other world leaders to find a peaceful solution.

Lisin later condemned the war again in an interview with Russian business newspaper Kommersant and on Facebook.

But it is more than six months since Lisin has been quoted about the war in Ukraine and there have been subtle hints that the Russian Government has been sending signals for him to fall into line, including when the Ministry of Sport announced that the Shooting Union of Russia, that he previously led and still bankrolls, had had its state accreditation suspended.

Vladimir Lisin fled Egypt quickly after losing the ISSF election to Italy's Luciano Rossi ©ITG
Vladimir Lisin fled Egypt quickly after losing the ISSF election to Italy's Luciano Rossi ©ITG

In October, the influential United States Government Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), described Lisin as "one of dictator Vladimir Putin's wallets" and accused Novolipetsk of playing a key role in the attack on Ukraine.

"The products of Lisin's enterprises are used to conduct military operations on the territory of Ukraine and to kill Ukrainians," the CSCE wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Lisin took to Facebook to condemn insidethegames’ reporting of the letter, accusing us of "playing dirty games".

"They invent that I or my companies produce missiles and bombs, then they invent that they produce nuclear weapons, new invention is that they produce tanks!" Lisin wrote. "It’s more than obvious that it’s politics. Unfortunately there is a lot of lie in politics. But there are no former politicians! We will proceed within the legal field and we will show up lie and its participants!"

For the record, no legal action has so far been launched against insidethegames by Lisin following our report.

"This is good news for the ISSF and good news for international sport governance," Hans Natorp, President of the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark, wrote on social media after Rossi's defeat of Lisin by 136 votes to 127.

"Congratulations to the ISSF community and the new ISSF president Luciano Rossi.

"Now is not the time to embrace Russian sport leaders."

Criticism of Lisin’s links to Putin and his involvement in the Ukraine war played a big factor in his defeat, of that there is no doubt, but it may just have been the final straw after many grew tired of his autocratic and dictatorial style.

Vladimir Lisin was accused in over-interfering and trying to influence the rules and regulations of the sport while ISSF President ©YouTube
Vladimir Lisin was accused in over-interfering and trying to influence the rules and regulations of the sport while ISSF President ©YouTube

Cookson's defeat was attributed to him being a weak leader, which it not an accusation you could level at Lisin, whose method of ruling seems to have alienated everyone he came in contact with at the ISSF.

At the Shotgun World Cup event in Lonato in April, Lisin got involved in a public row when he interrupted the semi-final of the trap shooting competition. The ISSF President told the competition jury not to update spectators on the scores after every five targets, which is required under ISSF rules.

When the request was declined, Lisin told officials, "Then I change the rules".

ISSF insiders have told insidethegames that this kind of behaviour used to occur regularly behind closed doors. Lisin regularly ignored advice from the sport’s technical committees and experts and tried to implement his own ideas, including changes to the sport's rules and formats, as he went along.

Even after the war started, Lisin travelled widely on shooting business, but when he needed to be somewhere else it was left to his most trusted lieutenant to make sure things were done on his terms.

Anna Leshchikova, who Lisin had previously arranged to join the ISSF ruling Council and who he had handpicked to succeed him as head of the Shooting Union of Russia, was effectively the de-facto office director of the ISSF. Insiders have told insidethegames that she was "hated" and the fact "that he did not publicly dump her will have hit him hard too".

Leshchikova worked in concert with Alexander Ratner, who Lisin had appointed as secretary general after changing the ISSF statues so that the position was appointed by the President, rather than elected by the membership, as it had been historically.

A senior ISSF official has described Ratner, a naturalised German but who most people considered still to be Russian, as "jovial" but added "everyone knew when he spoke it was Lisin's words that came out and the same with his actions. You could clearly see he held no personal views on anything, only those views of Lisin."

ISSF secretary general Alexander Ratner, standing, quit his job a few minutes after Vladimir Lisin, sitting, was unseated as ISSF President ©ISSF
ISSF secretary general Alexander Ratner, standing, quit his job a few minutes after Vladimir Lisin, sitting, was unseated as ISSF President ©ISSF

Ratner had made an unprecedented intervention in the election last week when he published an open letter on the ISSF website backing Lisin and condemning Rossi's campaign. The anger felt by many Federations was palpable. 

It was no surprise that after Lisin's defeat yesterday, Ratner failed to return after the lunch break, and was probably on Lisin's private jet back to Moscow by the time the General Assembly resumed.

Immediately after his election in Munich four years ago, Lisin had established a "Development Fund" with $10 million (£8.2 million/€9.5 million) of his own money for "Member Federations that need assistance in developing the shooting sport in their countries".

"Development funds" are normally a sure way to buy loyalty, but even African countries turned against Lisin at yesterday;s election with claims that he had failed to distribute the money or come up with a proper strategic plan to help shooting develop around the world.

The question now is what will Lisin do next?

Will he disappear gracefully from the sport and concentrate on his considerable business interests in Russia and Eastern Europe?

Or will he come back - excuse the pun - all guns blazing?

Lisin retains a considerable power base within the sport thanks to involvement with the Russian Union of Shooting and his various investments in the sport around the world.

Ratner, meanwhile, remains President of the European Shooting Confederation, having been parachuted into the position by Lisin last year following a bitter election campaign against Rossi.   

The gun may have been fired on a new era for shooting, but it will take a while before the smoke clears.