Jean-François Lamour

Friday 4 July 2014

Ex Sports Minister, deputy for Paris

Jean-François Lamour: Ex Sports Minister, deputy for ParisMontagne Leaders > As a two-time Olympic Sabre champion and winner of many gold medals in French and World Championships, when you were Sports Minister you promoted the French mountains internationally, and especially in China. Why did you set about this process of exporting mountain sports to this emerging economy?

Jean-François Lamour > Sport is one of the most promising sectors of the new sources for world growth. According to OECD, the economic impact of sports represents around 2 % of world GDP. And this "sports market" offers great prospects, with strong annual growth.
Of the sports in which French know-how can be promoted abroad, mountain sports is a certain hit. Among sports and tourism activities, ski-touring and mountaineering have a long history behind them, starting in the 18th century. Skiing appeared later, but it has become the mainstay of the economy in the Alps. And there our experience is a base which we can use by offering it to countries such as China, a vital player on the international scene where the sport is growing strongly. This is no coincidence; China is now the world's second biggest economy and has developed a society which pursues consumption and leisure. France has every interest in strengthening its trade with this very mountainous country.
That was why I launched this cooperation in mountain sports when I was at the head of the Sports Ministry between 2002 and 2007. I gave it my political and financial support, and I asked the adviser responsible for the mountains in my office, who was very enthusiastic about China, to get to work on Chengdu. And I am particularly pleased that today Serge Koenig is still leading this cooperation, attached to the French Consulate General. To bring good projects to fruition, you also need men with conviction to sustain them over time.


ML > The Alps-Szechuan cooperation, which you started, has helped to form strong bonds between China and France, between the Province of Szechuan and the French Alps. In 2006, you and your opposite number, the Chinese sports minister, signed the first version of this cooperation, setting the first milestone.
 As the initiator of this innovative project and promoter of a federative approach in the French mountain industry, can you tell us what exactly were the lines envisaged for this cooperation?

J-F L > Working in a country like China is always complicated, considering the cultural differences, international competition, etc. It is known to be a hard market to penetrate, with a range of local partners who are difficult to reach. This means that you have to be committed, to maintain your investments over time; the returns are often unpredictable, and only start to come in the long term.
While big industrial groups can generally get by on their own, this is not the case with SMEs, which often do not have the critical mass to plunge into the Chinese market unaided. And the mountain industry consists precisely of a network of specialist SMEs – engineering firms, partnerships for design, urban planning, architecture or redevelopment, equipment suppliers, training organisations, management companies, events organisers etc. For them China can be a real growth driver. Specific support on the spot had to be an advantage.
I wanted sport to be at the heart of this support mission, intended above all to develop our foreign trade - for tourism, land development, training etc. And this role as a driver helps French sport. And today I am pleased to see that this mission in China is producing good results, it is appreciated and it is there for the long term.


ML > As a top level athlete and ex Minister of Youth, Sports and Associative Life, how do you see the development potential for winter sports in China (destinations, target public, events, etc.)?

J-F L > The winter sports resorts and parks are mainly in the north-east of the country and around Beijing. Club Méditerranée has already invested heavily there. But China is also a drier country than France and there is not always enough snow at reasonable altitudes for mass tourism, except perhaps along the border with Korea, in Heilongjiang, or in the westernmost parts of Xinjiang. Nevertheless, winter sports should have a great future there. I imagine that the younger generations of Chinese are and will continue to be captivated by the magic of slipping over the snow, like everywhere else. The more so because they have more and more leisure time, and relating to nature has become important in Chinese society.
You asked about events. China organised the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, and associated the mountains with the Games by taking the Olympic Flame to the summit of Mount Everest. It is inevitably planning to host the Winter Olympics. They will need to put a candidacy dossier together for 2022; or 2026. The suggested sites are Beijing for the ice events and the resorts of Hebei Province a few hours away from the capital for the snow events. That will present a major window of opportunity.
Whatever happens, there is no shortage of interest among French players in the mountain scene to participate actively in the development of skiing in China, and more generally in year-round mountain tourism and sports.


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