(ATR) Bruno Grandi’s two-decade reign as gymnastics president comes to a close at the FIG Congress next month in Tokyo as his successor will be elected.
FIG President Bruno Grandi at Rio Games (FIG)
Grandi was elected at the 1996 Congress in Atlanta and re-elected four times – at Marrakech in 2000, Antalya in 2004, Helsinki in 2008 and Cancun in 2012.
The 82-year-old Italian sports leader revamped traditional scoring systems and helped grow the sport globally as non-traditional gymnastics powers garnered Olympic and world championship medals. He also established mandatory minimum age limits for competitors.
Gymnastics was promoted to elite Olympic status after London 2012, joining athletics and aquatics, a distinction that should elicit additional funding in the years to come.
His presidency was not without clashes and challenges. In addition to judging controversies, Grandi caused a stir in 2014 questioning the IOC’s motives for the Youth Olympic Games, insisting it was becoming a “promotional event.”
Around the Rings
caught up with the longstanding gymnastics leader and former IOC member to reflect upon his career and discuss the sport’s future.
Around the Rings:
What was unique about the Olympic gymnastics competition in Rio compared to other Olympics that you have presided over during your 20-year reign as FIG president?
IOC President Thomas Bach and Grandi at the Rio Olympic Arena (FIG)
Nothing was really different regarding the gymnastics competition. What I can point out is the debate about the gymnasts’ age because I pushed so hard to establish an age limit (16 years for women/18 for men).
It was interesting for me to see that in many countries including Romania, Russia and the USA, the older the gymnast, the more artistic is her performance. The other positive thing relates to the number of nations represented in finals and on the podium in Rio (54 medals shared between 16 different nations).
When I started as FIG President, medal ceremonies were quite monotone. It was always the same anthems and I used to go to sleep with the Romanian and former Soviet countries' anthems in my head. Now you can see eight gymnasts from eight different countries competing for a medal in a final, which is better for the interest in the sport.
What is FIG’s input regarding WADA’s Anti-Doping management system being hacked and Simon Biles’ positive test for methylphenidate being released as well her medical exemption?
It is surprising to see that the respect for privacy has been violated by the spreading of private information. We have no other comment to make.
Over your 20-year career what are you most proud of and what do you hope your legacy will be in the world of gymnastics and in the Olympic movement?
Grandi at 2015 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Champs closing ceremony in Stuttgart (FIG)
First and foremost, the competition format. I am proud of having reviewed the number of gymnasts required to compose a team and having enabled the best gymnasts in the world to take part in the Olympic Games. How many countries are able to have five complete gymnasts to compose a team - it was a long battle and many people argued with me. In the end, I won. The best athletes are at the Games.
I am also proud for having defended an age limit for the women’s competition against the opposition of many countries. Nowhere in the world should a child be obliged to work six hours every day. I haven’t totally succeeded on that front because a few countries still try to cheat with the age of their gymnasts. Some gymnasts are so short that they can walk under the table. But I think I deserve to be thanked for the fight I led against precocity in the sport.
It has always been very important to me that we have a sport where there is justice for the athletes. Everything I have done and tried to do has been linked to this idea of sportive justice, from reforming the code of points or better ways of analyzing the judging to prevent shenanigans and favoritism. I fought against the great powers. There are still things that need to be done. But it is this quest for justice that has always fired me up.
You have talked about gymnastics needing to "return to its roots”. Can you expand upon this and what is the future for gymnastics?
Gymnastics needs to stay linked to art! The acrobatic elements should be high value in the score when they are perfectly executed, but heavily sanctioned when they are not in order to discourage athletes who focus only on difficulty at the expense of execution. Our sport is called Artistic Gymnastics. If the routines are just a series of acrobatic elements, it is no longer Artistic Gymnastics. In the same way, Rhythmic Gymnastics must be rhythmic.
It seems that gymnastics only receives worldwide exposure during the Olympics and world championships. Sports like athletics have the Diamond League and skiing has a popular World Cup series. Is there room for gymnastics to improve and what can be changed to gain more exposure for the sport in non-Olympic years?
Grandi with French gymnast Samir Ait Said (center) at the Rio Olympic Arena (FIG)
We have established a new calendar for the next Olympic cycle in that direction. We have given more importance to the World Cups that have been considered more as local tournaments or grands prix until now. The last World Cup series before the Olympic Games will be part of the qualification process for Tokyo 2020. We would like to do similar to these sports, but it is not possible for gymnasts to take part in a competition every week like football or basketball. The sport is utterly different – gymnasts need more time to recover.
If you could have done anything differently or changed something during your 20-year run, what would it be?
If I could have, I would have changed my character. Maybe I should have been more diplomatic. I became angry each time someone wanted to block a reform proposition only to preserve one’s power.
I haven’t managed to achieve everything I wanted to achieve. However, I hope to have some statutory changes adopted at the FIG Congress in Tokyo next month in order to reduce the risk of conflicts of interest.
Progressive sports and even traditional ones consider change to stay relevant, which is important to the IOC in attracting young fans. Can you foresee new events, new apparatus, or other progressive change in gymnastics?
Gymnastics is already a sport attracting mainly a young audience. Having said that, gymnastics is part of the Olympic program not only thanks to the show offered by the athletes but also because it is a sport for all and considered a fundamental activity for health. Universality of this sport originally lies in this characteristic and the future of gymnastics depends on the fact that it is a sport for all. The show can be enjoyed or not but doing gymnastics is a need for the human well being that will be more and more important.
Next month in Tokyo, Mr. [Georges] Guelzec and Mr [Morinari] Watanabe are vying to become the next FIG president. What can you tell us about these candidates and are you surprised that only two are running?
At least one or two other candidates were expected to stand, but eventually they did not for personal reasons. I don’t support one or the other candidate because they are two very different profiles.
Guelzec is a technician like me who was, like me, a gymnast of his national team. He is a good and pleasant man.
Watanabe is a technician but also a businessman. He is fond of Rhythmic Gymnastics in a good way and he was instrumental in Japan’s great success these last years.
I hope the new president will follow the vision I defended that sport without justice is not sport. For the rest, he can do what he wants.
Interview by Brian Pinelli
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