Originally created 02/11/99

Ski chief calls for the 'courage' to change



VAIL, Colo. -- It will take courage as much as money for international skiing to thrive in the 21st century, the head of the sport says.

"We are aware of the fact that in the new millennium, there will be a major fight between sports for television time, mainly in Europe but it might also be in North America," said Gian-Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation. "We have a lot of special sports coming up. The old traditional sports will have to fight."

Kasper points to a major advantage enjoyed by skiing -- it is the only major international sport in Europe during winter. But, he says, it's time to go forward.

"I don't speak of modernization as a revolution. ... Modernization for me is a question of the spirit, the mentality," he said. "That's exactly what we have to change with our people, to be open to all new ideas and to have the courage to try them out.

"In the last 15 years, we've had a lot of ideas from journalists, from the industry, from our own people, but we didn't have the courage to make real changes."

Kasper noted that, without such courage, his organization wouldn't have grown from its original membership of 14 nations 75 years ago to 100 today.

Kasper, presiding over the World Alpine Ski Championships, says today's children will determine whether his federation remains a force.

"We have the potential of millions and millions of young skiers all over the world, but we have to get those kids into our sport," he said. "It's relatively easy to do it in Europe, with the European system. I know it's much more difficult to do it in the United States, where you have a different mentality, a different approach to sports clubs.

"In Europe, everything is based on the local ski clubs. The local ski clubs normally takes the kids when they are 5 or 6 years old, not for competition but just into the society, and the result at the very far end is that out of thousand kids in the local ski club, you might get one or two who are skiing well and will make the national team."

In North America, he said, the sport could help itself by putting involvement ahead of money.

"Children should never have to pay for a ticket to a ski race and children under 12 should never have to pay for a lift ticket," he said. "This is how you can get them involved.".

There is also the question of language.

"The main language of Alpine skiing for many years was German, so it was difficult for the French and the Americans, for instance, to even follow what was happening," Kasper said. "We have changed that a little bit. Although we speak a lousy English, we try at least to speak in English and that I think worldwide helps a lot."

By recruiting youngsters and breaking language barriers, Kasper thinks skiing has a chance to spread beyond its central European roots.

"We saw the Super Bowl figures here -- 100 million in the states, plus 20 million worldwide," Kasper said. "In the men's downhill, we have between 450 million and 500 million viewers watching. In Austria, 60 percent were watching Vail.

"I know you cannot create this here in this country, but looking a little bit at what happens over there could help create enthusiasm for our sport."