As the International Ski Federation moves into a new era of governance with recently elected president Johan Eliasch at the helm, Canada finds itself without a voice on the FIS Council.
Ken Read, the former president and chief executive officer of Alpine Canada from 2002 to 2008, came up five votes short among 116 ballots cast at the recent June 4 virtual election. Sixteen Council members were elected to serve the next term, which along with Eliasch’s tenure runs until the next FIS Congress in late spring 2022.
“Certainly, disappointed and I guess there was some surprise, in that I thought with my background having run Alpine Canada and my familiarity with not only leading the National Ski Association’s alpine portion, but successfully doing so. Under the period I was there, we took it from bankruptcy into successful years,” Read tells Ski Racing Media, while in Zermatt for a summer training camp with his son, Eric, and other Canadian racers.
“Not having Canada at the table, I think is a loss to the FIS and certainly I know for the community in Canada, the goal is to make sure at the Congress next spring that whoever will be the new candidate will be elected to Council,” Read said, confirming he will not run again.
Read was seeking to replace his countryman Patrick Smith, who served as FIS vice president from 2018-2021 and as a Council member since 2000.
“Pragmatically looking at it, we knew there was going to be a new president elected and I take it that there was a view in certain parts of the world that wanted some certainty within Council, and I guess I represented something of a new face,” Read continued, also noting that he attended his first FIS Congress in 1981 as an athlete representative.
“I do recognize that probably the weakness that I have is that I no longer have strong ties to our National Olympic Committee – I did in the 1980s and 1990s, but after I served as a chef de mission for the Canadian Olympic team for Barcelona (1992), I chose to step away because I had done it for 20 years,” said Read, who served as chairman of the IOC athletes commission for 14 years.
Considering Read’s unsuccessful bid for election, North America is left with only vice president Dexter Paine as a member on the FIS Council.
The former Canadian downhill racer and member of the “Crazy Canucks,” who won five World Cup races between 1975 and 1980, is quick to point out that Canada is still aptly represented with members on various FIS working groups. Ten newly formed committees and working groups, joining the three already existing, were established at the recent virtual congress.
“Currently, Canada and the U.S. are well-represented at the committee and sub-committee levels, most of that is technical, although some committees are beyond technical.
“Chris Robinson is chairing the Public Relations & Mass Media Committee, Chris Moore is chairing the Legal Committee, Steve Podborski chairs the Para-Ski Committee,” Read informs. “You have four Canadians that are on FIS Committees.”
Read endorses the newly elected FIS president Eliasch and is anticipating change like many others in the FIS community.
“We do expect that Johan will bring new directions and probably a new way of governing FIS, so one can expect the structure of FIS is probably going to shift, but it won’t be a revolution, I think it will be an evolution,” Read said
“I think the role of Council may change, and this will be interesting, because Johan will drive a fair amount of change.
“Gian Franco was 23 years at the helm, Sarah (Lewis) has moved on, and it’s inevitable there will be new energy, direction and change,” Read adds.
The newly formed committees will need to be ratified at the next FIS Congress. The new FIS Council, convening virtually for the first time on June 22, approved holding an online extraordinary Congress on Sept. 22.
New working groups and committees expected to be influential include the FIS Strategic Planning Group, Environment Sustainability Governance Committee, China Working Group and Alpine Future Working Group.
At the June 22 meeting, the FIS Council also unanimously appointed Michel Vion, the president of the French Ski Association since 2010, as the new FIS secretary general. In December 2020, Swiss and Austrian dual citizen Phillippe Gueisbuhler was appointed as FIS Director, replacing Lewis prior to Vion assuming the role.
“It’s a big machine – it’s a shift like a great big ocean liner shifting course,” Read says, about the future of FIS governance. “It’s not going to be something that happens quickly, but I think if the captain leans hard on it, it will shift.
“It’s unfortunate that Canada is not at the table, but Dexter is there, you have Australia, Japan and China, so one of the interesting points is that there are five non-European representatives on Council
“If the goal is to grow places like China and in new markets, one would want to have good contacts there, whether in the committee structure or in Counsel.
“They can come back to assist FIS staff and in the direction of FIS as it moves forward.”
Still, Read expresses some concern over FIS firmly establishing itself in new markets, Asia in particular.
“I think we’re a little static as a sport,” says the former Canadian downhiller. “How do we tap into new markets – we had the Olympics in Korea four years ago and we haven’t had a World Cup race there since.
“We have the Olympics this winter in China, but what is our plan beyond 2022.
Are we going to do the same thing or are we going to try and build a long-relationship,” Read asks rhetorically.
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