Always smiling and open for a friendly conversation, FISU President Leonz Eder is a man of the people, as this interesting and excellent interview by Thérèse Courvoisier for FISU shows.

After holding the position of Acting President for just over three years, Leonz Eder he was elected President at the FISU General Assembly in Geneva in November 2023. But the Swiss already has a long and valuable experience in university sport. 

He was a sports teacher and his first contact with FISU was through the University of Bern, where his mentor Fritz Holzer was also a FISU Vice-President. He joined the Media Commission of the International Federation of University Sports, as he wrote for many Swiss newspapers and worked for Swiss Radio. He was elected to the Executive Committee in 2003 and has been a member ever since.

Did you always want to be a sports teacher? 

Yes, ever since I was small. My parents weren't too keen on this career choice at the time, they were afraid of possible injuries. However, I stuck to my dream and also added some psychology and pedagogy courses to my degree. I got a job at the University of St Gallen. I thought I would give it a few years and ended up teaching sports there for 40 years!

"I was a regional champion in artistic gymnastics and floor exercise was my favourite event".

What is "your" sport?

When I was a child, from the age of 7 to about 17, I did artistic gymnastics. I grew up in a village where two members of the national team lived, so all the boys wanted to join their club and succeed like them. I also dabbled in Swiss wrestling and a bit of athletics, but I spent most of my time in gyms. I was a regional champion, and I remember that floor exercise was my favourite event. Then I grew too big and switched to handball, playing as a goalkeeper for seven years. I ended up in that position because, as a field player, I couldn't stand being fouled when my opponent had no chance of reaching the ball (laughs). A knee injury put an end to my handball career, but I took up volleyball when I started studying in Bern. And of course, as a typical Swiss, I went skiing. Now I hike, cycle and, when I have time, play golf. 

President of the International University Sports Federation Leonz Eder (left) playing ice hockey. FISU
President of the International University Sports Federation Leonz Eder (left) playing ice hockey. FISU

What sport do you like to watch the most?

I rarely watch television. I have the opportunity to watch a lot of sports live and I still prefer team sports, whether it is handball or ice hockey. I support EV Zug, which plays in the top Swiss league, but I am a much quieter fan than when I was young. I have also learnt how to be neutral, which is the position that is expected of a FISU President. That's why I now applaud everyone. 

What is more important, the team spirit, pushing your limits, the competition or the fun? 

All of the above! Playing sport as a child also allowed me to get away from home for a whole weekend for the first time! Sport teaches you to play fair and to respect the referees. You learn to train hard and never give up. Basically, these are the foundations of your life, both on the pitch and in your professional career. 

"If you want to lead people, you have to love people"

Have you always been so sociable?

I've never really thought about it, but I definitely agree with what former Swiss President Adolf Ogi used to say: "If you want to lead people, you have to love people". That is exactly what I feel. Interaction and communication between people is at the heart of all relationships. 

Leonz Eder at the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Universiade 2023. GETTY IMAGES
Leonz Eder at the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Universiade 2023. GETTY IMAGES

Not everyone comes across FISU in their career…

When I was a student, nobody knew about Swiss University Sport, and that is still sometimes the case. This is probably one of our weaknesses: we do a lot of good things, but not enough people know about them. We need to communicate more, both in the media and in the academic world. 

"Becoming FISU President has made me grow and develop and now I feel confident"

Did you always aspire to be a leader?

All my life I have always felt that I was a very good number two. I was a captain in the Swiss army, but not to lead men. I was in intelligence and had to prepare everything for my boss. He made the decisions, but they were based on my analysis. At FISU I felt very comfortable in the roles of vice-president and first vice-president. Becoming President has made me grow and develop and now I can say that I feel confident. I was able to achieve this by using my skills, improving them and of course with the help and support of a really good team. 

Was your time as Vice President and Acting President a good transition? 

Exactly! I was very touched and honoured by the amount of support I felt from many people in FISU, telling me that I was the right person for the presidency. One of my very good friends is the Chair of the Legal Committee and I always told him: "You have to keep an eye on me and tell me honestly if I am doing something wrong." So in a way I still have the support of mentors around me.

Leonz Eder is a president who, thanks to his
Leonz Eder is a president who, thanks to his "closeness", doesn't look like a president. FISU

How do you see your role as a president? 

Two key words are consistency and stability. Our first priority is always to find hosts for our big events. It's not always easy, but meeting people, getting to know them and negotiating is all part of the job. Soft skills and networking are essential. We also have really interesting programmes that we need to further develop, such as the successful Healthy Campus. We also have to look for what I call "balance:" gender balance, continental balance, balance between sport and education. Sustainability, of course, is also an issue that is central to everything we are planning.  All of this while trying to get the recognition of the other international sports federations to work closely together and to determine which sports are out and which ones have a bright future ahead of them. 

"Our student-athletes have to focus on both their studies and their sport, and perform well in both"

You are a good ambassador for FISU's motto "excellence in body and mind"… 

I certainly try to be. But those words are perfectly suited to what FISU is, and at the heart of our role is the support of dual careers. I am not saying that our student athletes are better than other athletes, but they have to focus on both their studies and their sport at the same time and perform well in both. It is very difficult and really impressive. Fortunately, we can support university programmes that help them achieve this dual career. 

So a lot of companies are looking for that kind of mindset when they hire?

Exactly. It is now proven that when employers have to choose between two equally qualified candidates, they will choose the one with a sporting background. And if both have such a background, they will prefer the one who plays a team sport.

Leonz Eder, skating with one of his four grandchildren. FISU
Leonz Eder, skating with one of his four grandchildren. FISU

You come across as someone who likes contact, but who is also modest and likes to stay in the background. Do you agree?

I do. One of my favourite mottos is: "If you have the power, you don't have to show it". Or "If you need a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm!" 

Sport doesn't have to be a career. It can also bring pleasure, health, friends... 

This is exactly the philosophy of FISU. Our summer and winter games are a mixture of sport, culture and education. And the advantage we have is that 90% of our student athletes speak English, so they can all interact, share their experiences and build an invaluable network for the rest of their lives. We have many examples of former participants in our Games who are now in top positions in leading companies around the world. Our former student athletes are our ambassadors for life.