The ISSF narrowly avoided an uncertain future on 30 November when it elected Vladimir Lisin as its new president.
The Russian, formerly head of the European Shooting Confederation, was the preferred candidate of the outgoing president Olegario Vazquez Raña, who relinquished his role after 38 years in the job. But he faced stiff competition from Italian Luciano Rossi, a former ISSF vice-president who had become an outspoken critic of the organisation and had even been suspended from it. A third candidate, Jalkh Boutros, withdrew the day before the vote took place at the ISSF General Assembly.
An election campaign fraught with controversy and spite – even leading to Mr Rossi reporting that he received death threats – concluded at a crowded General Assembly in Munich, at which all but two of the ISSF’s 294 delegates cast a vote. Mr Lisin received 148 of the votes, beating Mr Rossi by just four, to become only the seventh president in the ISSF’s 111-year history.
He now faces the daunting task of reuniting the federation and focusing on its future. Political Divide The ISSF is not known for enduring leadership challenges, with both Vazquez Raña and secretary general Franz Schreiber (who also resigned at the General Assembly) having been at the federation since 1980. But the current rift in the organisation stems from its removal of Double Trap, men’s prone rifle and 50m pistol from the Olympic programme, replacing them with mixed teams events.
Italy was one of the countries that strongly opposed this move, and in 2017 the ISSF went public to discredit the allegations of Luciano Rossi, who had claimed that secretary general Franz Schreiber and vice-president Gary Anderson had held secret talks with the IOC about the possible introduction of laser guns in the Olympics. Rossi, campaigning against the organisation he was himself a vice-president of, was referred to the governing body’s ethics committee, on the grounds that he had misled members to further his own political cause. The committee opted to suspend him from office for three years.
Meanwhile, the ISSF held an Extraordinary General Assembly to quell unrest about the Olympic changes and reassure athletes their views were being listened to. But support for Rossi was still in evidence as a selection of shooters wore black armbands at ISSF World Cup events in 2018, showing solidarity with the Italian. The three-year suspension would have barred Rossi from running for president, but a subsequent Court of Arbitration for Sport decision reduced the ban to 20 weeks, meaning it ended on 14 September – 16 days before the deadline for nomination for the presidency.
At the General Assembly, those who disapproved of Mr Rossi’s actions made no secret of it, as he faced a robust question-and-answer session before the vote, which touched on all the controversies now irremovably associated with his reputation. In an astonishing development, Rossi had arrived at the assembly accompanied by a police escort, after reporting that he had received an email “alleging that ISSF officials are plotting to kill [him] and/or to kidnap [his] youngest daughter.” No perpetrator has yet been named for this apparent act.
Ultimately unsuccessful in his bid, Mr Rossi would have been aggressive in changing the direction of the ISSF, while under Lisin it is expected to continue with the bulk of its current plans and policies. On the day, the ISSF’s departing leadership made a final plea for unity within the organisation. Franz Schreiber said: “Please have only the sport on your agenda. Please leave politics out of your agenda. Please become united again.”
There was an immediate indication that this would be a difficult task when a motion to approve the auditors’ report of the ISSF finances – normally a routine decision – was referred to a secret ballot after an objection from the floor. The ballot was carried out, and the motion passed, but with 104 votes against. Commonwealth Chance Vladimir Lisin and Alexander Ratner – the new ISSF secretary general, who had an easier time of being elected, receiving 161 votes against two other candidates – made it an immediate priority to show their support to shooting’s attempts to be restored to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games programme.
They visited Birmingham on 4 December to lobby leaders of the Games organising team, and reported that their representations were “positively received.” However, no indication as to whether they have been successful is expected until 20 January when organisers deliver their next progress report. Mr Ratner said: “We hope our counterparts understand that the attempt to save a relatively small amount of money in the organisation of the event can lead to multi-million losses in the countries where shooting receives governmental support. “Besides that, it can affect smaller nations, where our sport is the only one in which they are represented at the Games or win medals. All this would certainly have a negative impact on the Commonwealth community.”