Australia's Alex Watson has argued that UIPM President Klaus Schormann's "use-by date has been up for more than a decade" ©ITG

International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) Presidential hopeful Alex Watson has claimed here that incumbent Klaus Schormann has "been there too long" and there is a "real mood for change".

Watson, who represented Australia at three Olympic Games, has launched a bid to unseat Schormann as UIPM President, which he concedes is "going to be tough" and "a long shot" because "so many of the National Federations are frightened to stick their head out".

Schormann has led the UIPM since 1993, making him the longest-serving President of an Olympic International Federation.

Although Watson - a UIPM Board member in the 1990s - recognised the German official's contribution to modern pentathlon, he believes a change is required.

"Klaus has put his life into modern pentathlon, so I wouldn't be foolish to say that he hasn't contributed to the sport, but he's been there too long, his management style is dictatorial, and he's become more and more detached from the athlete base," he told insidethegames after announcing his Presidential ambitions.

"The use-by date has been up for more than a decade."

Schormann was re-elected as UIPM President unopposed at last year's virtual Congress, so would need to resign or have a motion of no confidence passed at next month's Congress to trigger a leadership contest.

The last year within the sport has been dominated by the UIPM's push for obstacle discipline to replace riding as the sport's fifth discipline, with the latter set to be axed after Paris 2024.

During that time, modern pentathlon has lost its place on the initial programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awaiting a formal proposal on the sport's format at the Games before taking a final decision.

Watson recognised that preserving the sport's place at the Olympics is a priority for National Federations, but believes there is a desire for change.

"There is a real mood for change, but their number one motivation and fear is dropping out of the Olympic Games," he said.

"The UIPM have very successfully manipulated that to say, support us or we're out of the Olympic Games.

"They're already out of the Olympic Games, they’ve got to get back in, but that's the rhetoric they've put out there - if you don’t support us, we're finished as an Olympic sport, and they've sort of used that to intimidate people.

"I talk to a lot of the National Federations Presidents and they’re saying is that we support you, we want to keep riding, but if we're out of the Olympic Games we won't get Government funding, so the UIPM have used that tactic."

UIPM President Klaus Schormann, centre, has been at the helm since 1993, but has been accused by Alex Watson of a
UIPM President Klaus Schormann, centre, has been at the helm since 1993, but has been accused by Alex Watson of a "dictatorial" management style ©Getty Images

The decision to move this year's UIPM Congress online has proved controversial.

Critics have claimed that last year's format stifled debate and have expressed fears of a repeat, but the UIPM insists that it would be unfair to stage an in-person or hybrid event due to the prohibitive costs involved.

Today's announcement of Watson's leadership bid featured accusations of "vote stacking" by the UIPM, and he claimed that "some National Federations have no athletes, but have been allowed to vote at Congress".

He vowed to focus on the global development of the sport if he is to become the UIPM President.

"My commitment would be that I want those Federations to be active, I want them to have athletes, I don't want them just to be a brass plate because that would make the sport truly globally active, but it's going to take work to set those programmes up," Watson commented.

"Cost-effectiveness, dealing with real development, working with the National Federations.

"There are things that we could be doing straight away and there are things longer-term.

"Straight away, I know Hungary and Great Britain could set up fantastic international training centres so we could bring athletes here and we can work on their riding skills and all five disciplines.

"Those are things that could be set up really quickly.

"I would move the headquarters away from Monaco.

"We don’t need to be headquartered in Monaco.

"We could have an office in Monaco, but why do we need to be headquartered there.

"We need to be headquartered where the sport is happening.

"The global development, particularly Africa, Asia and Oceania, really needs to be worked."

The UIPM Congress is set to vote on establishing obstacle as the sport's fifth discipline, but Alex Watson has argued that the governing body's claims of extensive support
The UIPM Congress is set to vote on establishing obstacle as the sport's fifth discipline, but Alex Watson has argued that the governing body's claims of extensive support "can't be substantiated" ©UIPM

Watson has also pledged to "restore our relationship" with the International Equestrian Federation, and "show the IOC that it [riding] can stack up, that it can be cost-effective, and that it can be an attraction for selling tickets at the Olympic Games, revenue, spectator audience and broadcast interest".

Advocates of obstacle discipline argue it makes modern pentathlon more accessible, and should avoid a repeat of the upsetting scenes of Tokyo 2020, where German coach Kim Raisner was sent home in disgrace for punching a horse that refused to jump during the women's competition.

The UIPM has recently published results of surveys from pentathletes in four obstacle test events, which it said showed 88 per cent satisfaction with the overall test event experience.

Schormann has also said he believes that riding is outdated in the sport, accused opponents of "arrogance" and dismissed claims that the UIPM has neglected athletes' opinion with regards to the proposed changes,

However, Watson accused the UIPM of not being "truthful about the whole process", and insisted that what the governing body "have been saying can’t be substantiated".

The incumbent President has also suggested that he has helped to preserve the sport's place at the Olympics during his time at the helm, and cited the introduction of the laser run as an example of a change that had faced questions but won over critics.

Watson argued that the move to replace riding has not been transparent, and "it's very difficult to make claims about what you've done when those claims aren't backed up by openness and transparency".

His campaign is backed by the Pentathlon United pressure group, which was established in the wake of revelations that riding would be dropped from the sport.

The UIPM's pivotal Congress is due to be held on November 12 and 13.