Greenwashing at the World Ski Federation?: FIS President Eliasch remains stubborn despite new allegations

Status: 05/26/2023 1:54 p.m

Johan Eliasch’s critics sometimes accuse the President of the World Ski Federation FIS of being stubborn and incapable of criticism. At the online FIS Congress on Thursday (05/25/2023) it was easy to see what they might mean.

By Sven Strowick and Volker Schulte

“Our critics have accused us of greenwashing – a completely nonsensical accusation”, said Eliash. And he repeated his mantra: “We can proudly call ourselves the first climate-positive international sports federation.”

The said critics include around 500 active athletes, including record winner Mikaela Shiffrin, who have demanded more climate protection from the FIS in an open letter. Greenpeace joined them and called for an end to the “brazen greenwashing”.

The World Ski Association FIS calls itself “climate positive” – ​​with the help of an opaque rainforest initiative. Greenpeace calls for an end to the “brazen greenwashing”.

What is meant by this is the assertion that the FIS is climate-positive, i.e. good for the climate through its work – despite flights, car trips, artificial snow and expansion plans all over the world. For example, the association recently named a ski hall in Egypt the winner of the World Snow Day Awards, endowed with the equivalent of 10,300 euros. “Johan Eliasch proves once and for all to be the greenwashing world champion”, tweeted Ursula Bittner from Greenpeace after Eliasch’s congress speech.

Greenpeace accusation: CO2 footprint calculated far too low

Greenpeace and the organization Protect our Winters (PoW) followed up shortly before the congress. The environmental protection organizations had the CO2 footprint of the alpine FIS competitions recalculated – and came to a significantly different result than the world association itself. According to this, the four big races in Kitzbühel, Schladming, Adelboden and Sölden alone would already emit 85 percent of the amount of CO2 , which the FIS has calculated for all their alpine events.

Greenpeace and PoW are now accusing the FIS of using their C02 footprint “far from reality and far too small” to have calculated. Because in addition to the four races mentioned, which almost reach the value of the FIS calculation, there would be more than 30 other World Cups and hundreds of other racing events.

FISrainforest initiative remains nebulous

The FIS has not yet reacted to this specific accusation. But regardless of which numbers are closer to reality, it remains unclear what the compensation should look like in numbers. When it comes to protecting the rainforest, the nebulous FIS Rainforest Initiative relies on cooperation with the organization Cool Earth, of which Eliasch himself is a co-founder and chairman.

How much money flows between FIS, FIS Rainforest Initiative and Cool Earth is unknown. In addition, Cool Earth itself writes on its website that its own approach is incompatible with the complex requirements of CO2 certification.

New sustainability-Director at the FIS

By sticking to the climate positive claim despite everything, Eliasch continues to gamble away credibility, even with steps that may actually go in the direction of real CO2 reduction. For example, FIS hired a sustainability director for the first time in the form of environmental sociologist Susanna Sieff. Eliasch also spoke of a new toolbox designed to help organizers reduce the footprint of their events.

European opposition forms

Eliasch seems to feel untouchable – and leaves the congress strengthened. The opposition, led by the major associations from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, had flexed its muscles shortly before the congress. The organization of the Alpine Country Ski Associations (OPA) has been expanded to include six countries, some from the north: Finland, Croatia, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Hungary have joined.

The Europeans are growing ever closer together to counterbalance the FIS. An escalation to the point of competitive competition is still conceivable.

Uncertainties due to short-term racing calendar

With a new election, Eliasch would probably not be deposed from the throne at the moment. The congress showed that and was probably also a reason why Germany, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland withdrew their lawsuit against Eliasch’s re-election in March. At the congress, the opposition failed with several motions, including on the important issue of the racing calendar.

Before last winter, the World Cups were only awarded very late, which led to great uncertainty. One should therefore return to longer-term planning – so the suggestion from the Austrians and Swiss.

Eliasch wants flexibility

Several other large nations supported the initiative with requests to speak, including DSV board member Stefan Schwarzbach: “The past few years have shown that the long-term calendar has worked well and there is enough flexibility for other nations to get on the calendar.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alexander Aamodt Kilde and around 150 other athletes consider the climate protection efforts of the World Ski Association to be insufficient – and make demands.

However, Eliasch complained that according to the application, the long-term calendar could only be changed in exceptional cases. And he pointed out that the FIS Council wanted to deal with the topic anyway.

The power struggle continues

When the applicants nevertheless insisted on a vote, Eliasch turned “to all nations” and warned that the proposal could “Have significant negative consequences for nations that are not among the greats and have aspirations to host ski races.” The delegates then voted against the motion with 52.21 percent.

European top dogs against nations from other continents dreaming of recovery – this power struggle has occupied the world association since Eliasch took office two years ago. There is no end in sight.