"I aim not only to be a sports manager but also a manager of People" - Michel Sorg
Rider, journalist, speaker, competition organizer, sports director, Michel Sorg is only thirty-four years old and already has an outstanding career in the business and equestrian sports world. The list doesn't stop there, since he is due to succeed Andy Kistler as coach of the Swiss team after the Tokyo Olympic Games. Meet this exciting figure!
THE SWISS FEDERAL SYSTEM WORKS LIKE FEW OTHER FEDERATIONS, IN THE WAY IT SELECTS BUSINESSMEN TO HEAD THE SWISS TEAMS, WHEREAS FRANCE, FOR EXAMPLE, APPOINTS FORMER TOP-LEVEL RIDERS. HOW DO YOU ASSESS THIS CHOICE AND THE UNQUESTIONABLE SUCCESS?
"It's true that in Switzerland it's a little bit different from what we see in France. You have to see the position of chef d’équipe as that of a manager who makes sporting decisions, someone who makes selections and who takes care of all the organization, communication and someone associated with a technical coach like Thomas Fuchs. Andy Kistler, the current chef d’équipe in Switzerland, is not a rider. Our system is intended to be like that and, when you look at the results of the Swiss team in recent years, it has proven to be successful and a good technique. Even though I am not a top rider, I was appointed by our federation to take over from Andy after the Tokyo Olympics. I know the Swiss, European and even world equestrian scene very well in relation to my position at the Geneva Equestrian Show of which I am deputy director. I have been a speaker at many competitions, and I have been involved in the Swiss federation as sports director for a year and a half now. I have been part of the organization committee for other competitions. I have been a rider myself, albeit very far from the level of those who will be my riders in the years to come, but I have ridden events up to 1.30m. I have covered many Nations Cups as an equestrian journalist too, so I have an eye on what’s going on in the equestrian world both from an organizational and technical point of view from the outside."
HOW WILL THE TRANSITION HAPPEN? ARE YOU GOING TO ACCOMPANY THE CURRENT STAFF FROM NOW ON?
"Since I’ m already the sports director of jumping, I already have an eye on the next generation and the base team. I'm already watching what's going on very carefully. Andy Kistler has always kept me up to date with everything he was doing, as for a year and a half now I've also been part of the selection commission. I will be accompanying the Swiss team on several competitions in the next few weeks, especially in La Baule. I'm really going to follow Andy Kistler to see exactly how a CSIO goes as a chef d’équipe. So, before I take my position, I'm going to do two or three Nations Cups with the current team."
ARE YOU STRESSED ABOUT HOLDING SUCH A POSITION?
"I wouldn’t say stressed, because I think it's not always a very positive thing, I prefer to talk about adrenaline. It would be a lie to say that I am totally Zen. Of course, there’s pressure and adrenaline. There's pressure because I'm a perfectionist in everything I do, so I intend to do everything I can to make it go as smoothly as possible, and when you're a perfectionist you always put a little more pressure on yourself, I think. It's positive adrenaline. We're still lucky in Switzerland to have excellent riders, including the World Nos. 1 & 2 at the moment, Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs. They are two incredible team leaders as riders but also as People, they will make it easy for me!
That's what I want to focus on. I aim not only to be a sports manager but also a manager of People, because for me, people are just as important as sport. What makes a good team successful is, of course, good riders, but it is also the good spirit of each individual and team spirit. This is what will be very important for me and something that Andy Kistler has done very well. I'm going to continue in that direction."
SWITZERLAND HAS THE TWO BEST RIDERS IN THE WORLD. DO YOU USE THIS FACT TO PROMOTE HORSE RIDING AS ONE OF THE MAIN SPORTS OF THE COUNTRY, BOTH IN TERMS OF MEMBERSHIP AND MEDIA COVERAGE?
"As I have a communication background, it will be very important for me to try to make this sport even more visible in the media and to get people to watch it even more. Since Steve Guerdat was crowned Olympic Champion in 2012 we have clearly seen a growing interest in our sport in Switzerland. However, today if we look at our riders’ spectacular results, we can still say that the Swiss media is not yet sufficiently interested when compared to what it represents. We have no other sport with the World Nos. 1 & 2 who are Swiss. In tennis, we have giants like Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, but in horse riding we’re doing even more extraordinary things, so the media is interested in them but for my taste still not yet enough.
In terms of interest in the sport, I think that our good results are triggering passion in young people. Steve and Martin are real examples for our generation because, as I said earlier, they are not only good riders but they are also incredible men who are aware that they are a driving force for a whole generation. This has to continue because a sport needs role models like them to move forward. We are lucky to have them, so we will have to capitalize on that."
WHAT WILL YOUR PHILOSOPHY BE IN THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS NEW SWISS TEAM? WILL YOU START PREPARATIONS FOR PARIS 2024 AS SOON AS YOU TAKE OFFICE?
"I am taking office just after the Tokyo Olympic Games. Paris 2024 is the prime objective in terms of Olympic deadlines, yes, but I am also looking ahead to Los Angeles 2028. In this sport, everything takes time to build up and we have to look ahead.
My philosophy has four directions. The first of these is sport and results of course, but this point is valid for all sports coaches in the world. Then, the second is to promote the younger generation, something I am very attached to. You can't build tomorrow’s Swiss team without taking an interest in the next generation, so I'm going to keep a very close eye on this younger generation to help them reach the elite level. We are talking about young talents, but we have a sport that allows us to remain at a high level for a very long time, so I tell myself with the eye of an outsider that there are riders of a certain age, who albeit talented have not yet been able to reach the highest level. We must bring these people out of the shadows too! It is something that Philippe Guerdat has for example succeeded in doing in France these last years. He is one of my role models. The third direction is image management and the promotion of our sport as we have already discussed. The fourth finally revolves around team spirit. It's not all about being a good rider, you also have to be a member of this Swiss team and fight for it".
HOW HAVE YOUR VARIOUS PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCES BUILT THE MAN YOU ARE TODAY AND WHAT PARTICULAR EXPERIENCE HAS GIVEN YOU ACCESS TO THIS POSITION?
"I've had the chance to do many different things in my life. I started with a career in journalism, television and radio in Switzerland. First in general journalism and then in sports journalism. I’ve always had an attachment to horse riding and it’s the sport that changed my whole life. The person I am today is very much so thanks to the people I met in this environment and what the horse has brought me as an animal and as a passion. I always say that it's not like a racket you can put away in the cupboard, the horse is 365 days a year. I have also been a speaker at horse shows, an experience that allowed me to see the other side of the coin and to join the organizing committee of the Geneva Show very early on, at the age of twenty-four. These are things that allowed me to grow up and to discover several facets of the business world and the equestrian sports world. As a result, I have this 360° vision which I think will allow me to approach this position with a fairly solid background.
Is it a problem that I am thirty-four years old today? I think it's not a matter of age, it's a matter of will, desire, passion and skills. What you need is to put all these ingredients together to do the best possible job, whatever it is. Something else that I haven’t mentioned is that I am a happy man. I have an immense opportunity and I realize that it is a luxury to be able to turn your passion into a job. It also conveys the message that when you love something, when you do it with passion, rigor, and desire, you manage to do some pretty great things. If you had told me five years ago that I was going to become chef d’équipe of the Swiss team, I would have laughed. It's not false modesty; the first time Andy Kistler talked to me about this was barely a year ago: "Michel, I'm going to stop, I want you to take over". I laughed because I thought it was a joke, I wasn't expecting it at all".
HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE JUMPING WORLD’S ECOSYSTEM TODAY?
"It's a vast and very sensitive question. For me, historical competitions and circuits must have priority over others. As a future Swiss chef d’équipe, I want to have riders who will fight for our team in the Nations Cup circuit. They have the right to do the parallel circuits that exist, but my priority will be to qualify Switzerland for the championships, and that will mean going to the historical competitions. I don't really want to get into the debate about the pros and cons of the Global Champions Tour, at least not right now since I'm about to take office. All I can say is that my priority will be the historical tour competitions. You have to remember that without the Nations Cups, we are no longer an Olympic sport, it's as simple as that. The emotions that a championship brings has nothing to do with what an X or Y competition brings. We are in a difficult period, there are several CSI5* every weekends, riders have to score Ranking points to be invited to competitions, they also have to earn their living to run their system... We have to find the right balance. We are lucky in Switzerland to have a rider like Steve Guerdat who rides all the Nations Cups. It's a great message for the sport."
Interview by Laura MORZEL. Featured photo: © Orianne Grandjean