FIL hopes back-to-back Olympics in Asia will help commercialise sport
By Jonathan Rest
The FIL, the governing body for luge, is hoping that two successive winter Olympics in Asia will generate strong commercial interest from the continent and help ensure the international federation becomes less dependent on Germany, the sport’s stronghold.
The Olympic luge competition finished in PyeongChang yesterday, with Germany picking up six of the 12 medals on offer, including three of four golds.
It’s not just on the track that Germany dominates, with the Berchtesgaden-headquartered FIL’s three main sponsors being German trio BMW, the car manufacturer, Viessmann, the energy systems manufacturer, and Eberspächer, the automotive supplier group.
Luge was a strong spectator draw in PyeongChang, and the FIL will seek to build on that success over the next four years in the lead-up to the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing.
In an interview with Sportcal at the Olympic Sliding Centre in PyeongChang, FIL secretary general Svein Romstad said: “We are always open to looking to various opportunities. As an international federation, we have a long-term partner in Viessmann. They have been with us for over 25 years and they are a very solid partner. In reality, this is a very European, particularly German-dominated sport. We have our television contracts with German TV, we are anchored there in many ways, but clearly if something comes along we would like to expand beyond that.
“There’s plenty of opportunity. We have an exciting sport, and as it takes a foothold in various countries, those countries are going to be able to build up their own sponsorship programmes. We are hopeful of some real growth there [in Asia] over the next few years.”
The FIL’s sponsorship packages are marketed by Infront, the Switzerland-based international sports agency, in a deal that was extended to 2022 last year.
Media rights are distributed internationally by SportA, the rights-buying agency of ARD and ZDF, the German public-service broadcasters, while the FIL itself handles the production and live streaming of its events.
Romstad continued: “Obviously luge is big in Germany, and we get live coverage on TV, but historically it’s been a struggle to get that wider broadcast exposure. So the live streaming [on the FIL website] has been a big step forward for us. We’ll look to expand that offering next season.”
Romstad said handling host production allows the FIL to road-test new technologies.
He explained: “We’ve tried cameras on the sled but it’s very bulky. We’ve tested them on the helmets, but with the speed of the riders, the footage has not been great. We are always open to new technologies but we have to be aware of the weight limitations in our sport.
“The installation of small cameras on the turns of the track has added a new dimension to the viewing, as has super slo-mo cameras.”
The FIL is also incorporating Dartfish software into its broadcasts. Dartfish is a video analysis tool that creates stroboscopic effects so athletes can see where they drove through an entire curve.
The technology enables footage of one athlete to be overlaid on top of another athlete to illustrate the differences of the two sleds going down the track simultaneously, highlighting the slightest of errors.
Romstad noted: “We’re finding it’s a revolutionary tool for understanding the finest margins of success in luge. For example, the medallists at Nagano [1998 winter Olympics] were separated by two thousandths of a second. Now we can really show the viewers what that means and where the key moments of a race happened.”
The FIL runs four events at the winter Olympics - men’s and women’s singles; men’s doubles; and team relay – all on artificial tracks.
The governing body has submitted bids to the International Olympic Committee for the inclusion of men’s and women’s sprint for Beijing 2022, and proposed the addition of natural track luge (natural tracks are often located along mountain roads and paths, and artificial refrigeration is prohibited).
The IOC is expected to finalise the Beijing 2022 sports programme at its next executive committee meeting in June.
Also in June, the FIL will hold its annual congress, where Romstad will stand down as secretary general after 24 years in the post.
The Atlanta, USA native, who works in commercial real estate, said: “This is an elected, sports political role. I already have a full-time job and being more and more engaged in sport at the Olympic level doesn’t work well.”
Romstad became secretary general in 1994, the same time as Germany’s Josef Fendt was elected president. Fendt is up for re-election in June, but Romstad said the president has yet to decide whether to seek another term.