Editorial: Four More Years

As expected the new FIG President is Bruno Grandi. By the way, that is just Bruno Grandi not Prof. Bruno Grandi since – as far as TAA knows – he is not actually a professor of anything at any university. He is a teacher by profession which in his native Italian is professore. It is not unusual in Italy for teachers to be referred to as Prof. followed by their full name so Grandi, whose English is not great, may not be aware of the different meaning in other languages.

The only surprising thing about this result is perhaps that only one round of voting was necessary. Grandi received 68 of the 106 votes cast, more than twice as many as closest rival Vasily Titov (Russia). Titov garnered one of the three prestigious vice presidential spots and is thus elevated to a very small circle of power within the FIG. Probably not the worst spot to be in should he decide to run again in 2016, and realistically the best result Russia could have hoped for. Slava Corn (Canada) and Michel Leglise (France) were both re-elected as vice presidents as predicted. The presidents of the Technical Committees are also members of the Executive Committee. Germany (Wolfgang Willam and TRA TC president Horst Kunze), Russia (Vasily Titov and RG TC president Natalia Kuzmina) and the USA (Peter Vidmar and MTC president Steve Butcher) each have two members on the most important committee in gymnastics. That’s an improvement for Russia from the last cycle. Germany and the USA maintained their status quo.

Romania, on the other hand, has zero. The biggest news of the elections was the demise of Adrian Stoica. The veteran of international sports politics went for broke. He ran for the FIG presidency but not as vice president or for a spot on the Executive Committee. He was challenged by Steve Butcher (USA) for the MTC presidency and yet decided not to run for a simple membership. Stoica risked a lot and lost everything. He lost both elections and is now completely out of the FIG. This leaves Romania with no representation at the top-level of the sport at all.

Much can -and will- be speculated about the motives federations have to support one candidate or another. Do people actually read the candidates’ programmes and make informed decisions based solely on their content? Probably not. Is it largely political? Probably yes. Is it tactical? Absolutely.

Why vote for Grandi?

Well, you could have read his programme and agree with it. Or think the other two candidates were even worse. Or you could be a federation that will probably never have an athlete in the Olympics and thus couldn’t care less whether they are allowed to warm up on the podium, break their necks because they aren’t, how many people make up a team, how artistic the sport is or what direction it is going in. Your programme is just busy scrambling for survival from year to year. Perhaps you don’t actually take part in any competitions but think it’s cool the FIG pays for each federation to go to the Congress. You’re not quite sure what the debates are about but are enjoying the cocktails by the pool. Or you could be a federation that has a highly ambitious candidate waiting in the wings for 2016, when Grandi is expected to retire. Of course you need him to crank out another term. Titov and Stoica are much too young and could wreck your plans by getting re-elected in four years. You could be a federation that has struck a deal that if you support Grandi on any number of issues, you will in turn be supported on something important to you. Or just get a position you’ve always wanted.

No representation without participation?

With the exceptionally small amount of information the FIG provided from Cancun – though dolphin lovers will appreciate the photo gallery – speculation will be more rampant than ever. Fact is that the Executive Committee sees new members from Qatar and Kuwait while federations such as Great Britain or Switzerland – each with a long tradition and active participation in all FIG sports and competence in organising many international competitions – were kicked out. Qatar and Kuwait did not participate at all in the last world championships in four of the five FIG sports. They each sent three gymnasts to the 2011 Tokyo Worlds, only one of these six athletes was female. Sri Lanka and the Lebanon, who have newly elected representatives in the Council, between them did not send a single athlete to any of the last world championships. In any sport. This naturally evokes questions. What level of expertise do these representatives bring to the table? How, exactly, do they plan to contribute to the development of sports in which they hardly participate? Should federations who do not actually participate in competition be allowed to make decisions that concern the code, the competition format and other aspects obviously irrelevant to them? There are no minimum entry requirements for world championships and, at least for the likes of Qatar and Kuwait, participation it is surely not a financial issue.

Towards 2016

Names that repeatedly pop up in conversation when discussing the FIG after Grandi are Wolfgang Willam (Sports Director the German federation) and Olympic champion Peter Vidmar (Chairman of the Board of USA Gymnastics). USAG and the FIG conveniently announced a cooperation agreement that also includes the USOC and apparatus manufacturer AAI just one day before Vidmar was elected to the Executive Committee. Though that, of course, could be entirely coincidental. Fact is, it is virtually impossible to win over the majority of the federations without offering assistance to them. “Our goal is to share this expertise with countries that are working to develop the sport of gymnastics, athletes and coaches, and can use a little boost in getting to the next level,“ the press release quotes Vidmar.

Judging by his election result (56 of 102 votes cast, the second highest result), the FIG family obviously doesn’t mind (or is not aware of) Vidmar’s utterly embarrassing media Fukushima earlier this year when he had to step down as chef de mission for the 2012 Olympics. Vidmar, who is a Mormon, had donated money and campaigned for Propostion 8 which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. He explained his stance with his religious beliefs. It is interesting that USOC did not see Vidmar fit for a prominent role but USAG and FIG obviously do. 

Wolfgang Willam, the man behind the disaster that is the FIG World Cup circuit, suffered quite a blow in Cancun. Instead of coming home as a newly elected vice president he limped out of that election with the lowest number of votes after the first round. He then only just made it back on to the Executive Committee as the second last candidate to be elected. Whether or not this has any influence on future events remains to be seen. Maybe the FIG will have a president from Kuwait. Who knows? The fight for Grandi’s succession has probably only just begun. One thing is sure – the gymnastics community is in for four more years of Bruno Grandi’s legendary letters.