Japan’s Morinari Watanabe was elected as the president of the International Gymnastics Federation at the world governing body’s congress in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The 57-year-old Watanabe, the secretary general of the Japan Gymnastics Association, defeated French rival Georges Guelzec, head of the European Union of Gymnastics, by a huge margin, claiming 100 of the 119 votes.
He will replace 82-year-old Italian Bruno Grandi, who is stepping down as president in December after 20 years in charge.
“I’d like to thank the people who believed in me and voted for me,” Watanabe said in his acceptance speech. “I am proud to have become president.
“The time to bring innovation to gymnastics has come. Gymnastics will be the king of sports.”
Watanabe becomes the first Asian to head FIG and is the first Japanese president of an Olympic international federation since Ichiro Ogimura was president of the International Table Tennis Federation from 1987 to 1994.
“There were no presidents of international federations from the Japanese world of sport, not only gymnastics, and it is an honor (that Watanabe) got this post,” said JGA head Hidenori Futagi.
“I think he will carry out his role with devotion and a sense of justice.”
Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda said, “I hope he will make efforts for the growth of world gymnastics and the Olympic movement, advance internationalization and enhance the presence of the Japanese sports community.”
Watanabe has made a significant contribution to overhauling gymnastics in Japan after the country failed to earn medals at 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in Atlanta and Sydney.
Watanabe was appointed as JGA secretary general in 2010 and joined the FIG executive committee in 2013.