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Val d'Isère set for ski season's main event

Lara Gut is one of four Swiss taking part in Tuesday's Super-G


As women skiers take centre stage on day one of the 2009 World Championships, organisers are banking on a smooth start to an event beset with organisational problems.

The Swiss president of the International Ski Federation tells swissinfo that despite planning difficulties, the Val d'Isère championships should run smoothly.

Gian-Franco Kasper, who has been in office since 1998 and was for 23 years the organisation's secretary-general, also explains how the current financial crisis might affect the sport.

The Swiss ski team travelled with confidence to the French resort for the championships, which opened on Monday. It hopes to improve on the six medals it took home at the 2007 world championships in Åre, Sweden.

Four skiers, Lara Gut, Fabienne Suter, Andrea Dettling and Fränzi Aufdenblatten, take part in the first race on Tuesday, the Super-G.

swissinfo: How do you feel ahead of the opening of the world championships in Val d'Isère?

Gian-Franco Kasper: We shouldn't hide the fact that there have been numerous organisational problems in Val d'Isère. Local disputes between the two biggest families that control the ski resort have marred the organisation of these championships.

Ironically, the resignation of Jean-Claude Killy, the triple Olympic champion and president of the organising committee, in summer 2007 acted as an alarm bell for the political world.

Since then the new committee and the regional authorities have done an extraordinary job and won back lost preparation time. If the weather is with us, I am optimistic that these championships will go ahead smoothly.

swissinfo: Alpine skiing is basically a European and North American sport. Can you really talk about world championships?

G-F.K.: I think so. There will be 69 nations taking part at Val d'Isère. The Japanese, Koreans and Chinese have already won medals in one of the championship disciplines. Asia is therefore part of the global skiing family.

For obvious climatic reasons, there are not many Africans, but athletes from Algeria and Morocco will be participating.

swissinfo: Some countries, like Senegal, say the championships' selection criteria have not been drawn up in their favour. Is access really possible for all nations?

G-F.K.: The Senegalese are not just critical of the world championships but also of the Olympic Games. They are not happy to have to go through qualifying rounds to take part in a giant slalom race. But we don't have much choice when we have over 200 racers registered for this event alone.

Should we give up one or more of the four places that have been allotted to Swiss racers to allow someone from Senegal to take part? I don't think that's very fair.

Qualifying is an integral part of a major sporting event, even if I understand the desire of certain nations to appear on television more often.

swissinfo: Swiss skier Daniel Albrecht is in an induced coma following his recent accident in a World Cup downhill training run in Kitzbühel, Austria. What is FIS doing to ensure safety?

G-F.K.: Competition ski runs have become much safer over the past 15 years. Several people within FIS are responsible for this issue.

Every year important changes are made, in particular to safety netting and the contours of ski runs, which lead to huge costs for the organisers.

We do our utmost but zero risk is not possible. Daniel Albrecht's accident had nothing to do with poor security. It was clearly the skier's mistake.

swissinfo: Is competitive skiing likely to be also affected by the current economic crisis?

G-F.K.: FIS is not directly affected for the moment. But the financial crisis worries me, as we are not impervious to the economic world. Some organisers are starting to feel the first effects.

In Vancouver, which is due to host next year's Winter Olympics, banks are not willing to give loans for the construction of the Olympic Village.

But I think in the long-term sport will survive. We'll have to adapt slightly by serving sausages instead caviar at the VIP zones (laughs).

swissinfo: What are Switzerland's chances of hosting the world championships in the near future?

G-F.K.: St Moritz has a good chance of once again hosting such an event in either 2013 or 2015. But there are other candidates on the horizon, and they are not countries best known for their skiing.

Emerging countries like Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and of course Russia, which will hold the Sotchi Winter Games in 2014, are investing lots of money building fantastic ski resorts, and those countries will also want to hold a World Cup event or the world championships.

The big skiing nations will certainly not like it, but if we really want to be a global sport, we have to give these competitions to new skiing nations. In Bulgaria, for example, a competitive team is just being set up and, believe me, in a few years Bulgaria will be a candidate to host the world championships.

swissinfo-interview: Samuel Jaberg

Alpine World Ski Championships

The Alpine World Ski Championships take place every two years. For 15 days, skiers will compete for medals in the same disciplines as in the World Cup.

A contest among nations, the event is divided into men's and women's events.

This year the races take place from February 2-15 at the French ski resort of Val d'Isère. It is the first time that France has organised the championships since 1968.

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Swiss chances

The Swiss team heads to Val d'Isère with confidence, having stood ten times on the winners' podium this season.

The men's team will feature Didier Défago, Didier Cuche, Silvan Zurbriggen and Carlo Janka. Daniel Albrecht had to drop out after his horrific accident at the end of a World Cup downhill training run in Kitzbühel, Austria ten days ago.

Janka, from canton Graubünden, will be hoping to continue the good form that has seen him secure victories in the giant slalom (Val d'Isère) and super-combined (Wengen), as well as a second place in the downhill (Lake Louise).

Défago, 31, is also hoping for a medal after downhill victories at Wengen and Kitzbühel this year. Cuche wants to build on three seasons of good results and better the bronze he won in the giant slalom at the 2007 championships in Åre. Zurbriggen is also in with a serious outsider chance of a medal in the super combined and slalom races.

For the women, Dominique Gisin, 21, is in excellent form: downhill victories at Alternmarkt-Zauchensee and Cortina d'Ampezzo this year. The same goes for the 17-year-old sensation Lara Gut in the super-G and giant slalom, and Fabienne Suter and Andrea Dettling for the super-G.

At the 2007 Alpine World Ski Championships in Åre, Sweden, Switzerland took home six medals. This followed the disastrous 2005 championships in Bormio, Italy, when they failed to win a single medal.

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