In a career that spanned 43 years with the International Ski Federation (FIS), FIS Vice President Janez Kocijančič was rarely in the headlines. But behind the scenes he was one of the most influential leaders in sport. Kocijančič, a member of the FIS Council since 1981, died June 1 after a long illness at the age of 78.
Kocijančič’ career touched on the highest levels of both sport and politics in his native Slovenia. He was the leader of the Slovenian Olympic Committee from 1991 to 2014, and was serving as head of the European Olympic Committees at the time of his death. He was the former head of the national ski associations of both Slovenia and Yugoslavia, playing a key role in the creation of the Ski Association of Slovenia in 1991 and serving as the first president of the new Slovenian Olympic Association.
His passing marks an evolutionary milestone for FIS, especially in light of the planned retirement of FIS President Gian Franco Kasper. Kasper had announced his retirement to coincide with the 2020 FIS Congress in Thailand last month, but it was canceled due to the pandemic. FIS is seeking to reschedule a Congress later this year, but no definitive plan has been confirmed. At present, FIS plans to keep Kocijančič’s seat open pending a new FIS Council election, hopefully later this year.
“Janez was an exceptional leader for both the FIS and Olympic sport,” said former FIS Vice President Hank Tauber, who worked closely with Kocijančič for decades. “His knowledge and experience will be greatly missed.” Tauber presently sits on a FIS commission vetting candidates to replace Kasper on his pending retirement.
Kocijančič was one of Kasper’s strongest allies in the sport. He was able to carry strong influence with the FIS Council on behalf of its president.
His tenure with FIS began with a seat on the FIS Legal & Safety Committee in 1977, moving onto the FIS Council just four years later during the tenure of FIS President Marc Hodler. He later became chairman of the Marc Hodler Foundation as well as FIS Marketing Ltd.
“FIS and the world of sport has lost a true friend,” said Kasper. “Janez was a dedicated member of the Council who served FIS and the sport with distinction and wisdom. His wonderful sense of humour will also be warmly remembered.”
Former U.S. Ski & Snowboard chairman Dexter Paine, who has sat on the FIS Council since 1984, remembers Kocijančič as a gentleman and visionary who served sport in a selfless manor. “We all benefited from his dedication to serving Olympic sport,” said Paine. “His wisdom, passion and sense of humor will be missed by all of us.”
Kocijančič received Slovenia’s highest honor in sport, the Bloudek Award, in 1985. He was also honored with the Norwegian King Olav Trophy (2014) for his global promotion of skiing.
His background was in law. He engaged in politics at a young age, presiding over the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia, serving as a minister in the national government and heading a national political party. His business career took him many places, including CEO of the flag carrier Adria Airways.