TOKYO — Morinari Watanabe of Japan was elected president of the International Gymnastics Federation on Wednesday, promising to usher in changes that will make gymnastics “the king of sports.”
The 57-year-old Watanabe, the secretary general of the Japan Gymnastics Association, received 100 of 119 votes in an election against France’s Georges Guelzec, head of the European Union of Gymnastics.
“The time has come now for innovation in gymnastics,” Watanabe said. “Today we sent a strong message to the world. Our gymnastics is not a sport that is popular only at the Olympic Games. Gymnastics is now and will be the king of sports.”
Watanabe will replace 82-year-old Italian Bruno Grandi, who is stepping down as president in December after 20 years in charge.
Watanabe becomes the first Asian to head FIG and is the first Japanese president of an Olympic international federation since Ichiro Ogimura headed the International Table Tennis Federation from 1987-1994.
Watanabe is a sports business management professional. He joined the Japanese gymnastics association in 2001 with the goal of reviving the sport following a medal drought for Japan at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Japan has won medals in gymnastics at every games since.