Geoff Berkeley

Kim Jae-youl looked in shock when he walked to the lectern to deliver his first-ever speech as President of the International Skating Union (ISU) at the organisation’s Congress in Phuket.

Although the South Korean may have fancied his chances of clinching victory in the Presidential election, he obviously did not expect such an overwhelming result in the Thai city.

What looked set to be a closely-fought race ended in a landslide victory for Kim who polled a whopping 77 votes - winning by almost 65 per cent.

Patricia St Peter of the United States was Kim’s closest challenger with 24 votes, while Finland’s Susanna Rahkamo earned 13 and Slobodan Delić of Serbia claimed five.

"I am very surprised and humbled by your overwhelming support," said Kim who becomes the first non-European President in the ISU’s 130-year history.

While it might take a bit of time for the election win to sink in for Kim, it is clear a large bulk of ISU members have full confidence that the 53-year-old can lead the organisation through troubled waters.

During his five-minute speech to promote his manifesto prior to the vote on Friday (June 10), Kim emphasised one of the biggest challenges facing the ISU and that is money.

The ISU has revealed that it expects to lose CHF10.6 million (£8.7 million/$10.7 million/€10.2 million) in the next three-year period.

Newly-elected ISU President Kim Jae-youl has pledged to run the International Federation
Newly-elected ISU President Kim Jae-youl has pledged to run the International Federation "like a business" ©YouTube/ISU

It means the ISU’s equity could drop below the targeted threshold of CHF255 million (£210 million/$260 million/€245 million) by the end of 2024.

The ISU made a profit of CHF2 million (£1.6 million/$2 million/€1.9 million) in 2019 but has since endured losses and now faces a significant drop in funding from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Based on the IOC’s preliminary figures from the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the ISU expects the annual contribution to fall from about CHF11 million (£9 million/$11.1 million/€10.6 million) in 2021 to approximately CHF9 million (£7.4 million/$9.1 million/€8.7 million) in 2022.

If those estimations are correct, the ISU could receive about CHF8 million (£6.6 million/$8.1 million/€7.7 million) less from the IOC in the next Olympic cycle compared to the previous four years.

The situation led ISU director general Fredi Schmid to warn members of "further cost-saving measures" which were "beyond those included in this budget proposal" at the Congress.

So when Kim started talking about "business plans" and "financial working groups" to solve the ISU’s money problems, the South Korean struck a chord with members.

"You are not just voting for words in a manifesto, you are voting for a person who makes them happen," said Kim to bring further music to members’ ears.

ISU director general Fredi Schmid has warned members to expect
ISU director general Fredi Schmid has warned members to expect "further cost-cutting measures" over the next three years ©YouTube/ISU

Kim has got a wealth of experience having led the Korea Skating Union from 2011 until 2016 and served as an executive vice-president of the Pyeongchang 2018 Organising Committee.

He was also a member of the IOC Coordination Commission for Beijing 2022 and currently sits on the IOC Olympic Programme Commission.

His father-in-law is the late honorary IOC member Lee Kun-hee, the businessman credited with turning Samsung into one of the world’s largest conglomerates.

Kim is President of Samsung Global Strategy Group and believes he has the business acumen to transform the fortunes of the ISU.

"All your ideas require investment and the reality is that we will lose CHF10 million in the next three years and that is with us cutting costs, not increasing our investment," said Kim who has a masters degree in business administration at Stanford University in the United States.

"Simply put, we need more money so what we need during these difficult times is a leader who can manage ISU like a business and today I stand here because I have relevant, real world experience to help grow our sport.

The Kamila Valieva case is set to continue to hang over the ISU ©Getty Images
The Kamila Valieva case is set to continue to hang over the ISU ©Getty Images

"For the past 25 years, I held executive roles at Samsung and other global organisations. I applied this business experience to my love of skating and sport.

"When I was President of the Korean Federation our sponsorship revenue tripled.

"As executive vice-president of Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, I worked closely with the IOC and the broadcaster partners to ensure that we deliver safe, efficient and athlete-first Olympic Games.

"Today, I am ready to apply all this experience to the sport we love.

"If I am given the honour of serving the ISU family as President, I will start by putting together a business plan with your input.

"We will prioritise opportunity, define goals with timelines and we will track our progress.

"Once our plan is set, we will take actions, for example we can form a financial working group to best manage our assets."

Kim also pledged to review commercial contracts in a bid to "explore new sources of income" and vowed to implement a "sustainable venue solution."

"All of this will recruit close communication and collaboration with all stakeholders including you so I want to introduce online sessions during non-Congress years to ensure you stay engaged," said Kim, whose manifesto is underpinned by five priority areas including "Growth", "Opportunity", "Innovation", "Safeguarding" and "Unity".

"This sounds like a lot of work and it is.

"True progress takes teamwork and by working better together as a team I am confident that we can unlock our full potential because together we can go further and we must go further together."

Kim has become the first non-European President of the ISU in the organisation's 130-year history ©Getty Images
Kim has become the first non-European President of the ISU in the organisation's 130-year history ©Getty Images

Kim’s rousing speech on the final day of the ISU Congress was well received by those inside the room at the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa.

As well as addressing the ISU’s financial issues, Kim now takes on an International Federation that has come under increasing scrutiny following the drugs scandal involving Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva at Beijing 2022.

After Valieva competed at the age of just 15 in the Chinese capital, the ISU Congress agreed to raise the age limit for figure skating competitions to 16 from the 2023-2024 season and 17 from after that.

While that age-debate has been resolved for now, Kim has said that he is still awaiting Valieva’s B sample to be tested, claiming the case remains "a work in progress".

Kim is also leading the organisation at a time when Russian and Belarusian athletes are being cast into the sporting wilderness due to Russia’s ongoing military assault, aided by Belarus, on Ukraine.

Russia is the dominant force in figure skating but Russian and Belarusian skaters remain banned from ISU competitions "until further notice" due to the war in Ukraine.

The two nations have also been barred from staging events but there remains Russian influence on the ISU Council.

While Alexander Lakernik lost his position as ISU vice-president, Russia’s Alexander Kibalko was elected to the Council after Russians and Belarusian officials survived a vote to exclude them from the Congress.

Kibalko’s election will increase the hope of those in Russia who are seeking to overturn the ISU's decision.

Listening to Kim at the Congress, the South Korean clearly means business but with many challenges ahead of him let’s see whether he can deliver on his word.

Kim's full manifesto can be read here.