JAPAN’S Morinari Watanabe, who was elected as new president of the international gymnastics federation (FIG) at its recent congress in Tokyo, exuded confidence that Doha would live up to expectations when it hosts the 48th Artistic World Championships in 2018.

“Doha has hosted several top competitions. The Qatar Gymnastics Federation (QGF) has gained rich experience through the organisation of a top event (Artistic World Challenge Cup) every year. I think the 2018 Worlds will be one of the best in history,” said Watanabe, who will take over from Bruno Grandi as the next FIG head on January 1, 2017. 

Watanabe, who was an FIG Executive Committee member, beat France’s Georges Guelzec 100-19 to become the first Asian to head the world body.

“FIG has always set the benchmark after every edition of World Championships. I think the tournament in Doha will be a huge success,” said the 57-year-old, who attended the Association of National Olympic Committees’ General Assembly in Doha along with Grandi and FIG Secretary General Andre Gueisbuhler last week.

“We’ll collaborate with Qatar on every aspect related to the event. The next edition in Montreal, Canada, could help the QGF learn more about hi-profile competitions.

“We’re ready to help them. In fact, after the conclusion of the competition in Canada, we can sit with the Qatari officials and take it forward on the organisational aspect,” he said.

Watanabe said FIG would continue to follow the philosophy of 82-year-old Grandi, who headed the world body for 20 years. 

“FIG will follow his philosophy and passion. He’s like our father who
knows the administration and its technical aspects inside out,” said Watanabe. “He has set a benchmark. My job would be to promote and market the sport further. We can achieve that by organising high-quality competitions. We should’ve more tournaments to make the FIG rich in terms of revenues.”

Watanabe, a sports business management professional, joined the Japanese Gymnastics Association in 2001 with a mission to revive Japan’s glory days following their medal-less performance at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He accomplished his mission from the start as Japanese gymnasts won medals at every Games since then.

Watanabe also stressed the need to bring in changes to the sport. 

“The time has come for innovation. Gymnastics is a very popular Olympic sport, but we want to make it the king of sports.

“We can’t compete with football. However, we still can come close to it as a spectator sport. We need to showcase its strength and beauty,” Watanabe concluded.

He will be the ninth president of the oldest Olympic sports federation, which was founded in 1881. 

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