Kim Andersen and Quanhai Li will next week contest a run-off for the World Sailing Presidency, after beating off the challenges of two other candidates in the first round of a bitter and keenly-contested race.
World Sailing announced the outcome ahead of schedule this morning, without releasing the detailed breakdown of votes.
Eligible Member National Authorities (MNAs) will now decide which of the two men will lead the financially fragile governing body over the next four years in a second electronic vote between October 20 and 23.
As first reported by insidethegames, a strong rumour that Andersen and Li had made it through to the run-off at the expense of the other challengers, Uruguay’s Scott Perry and Gerardo Seeliger of Spain, began circulating on Friday evening, within hours of the first-round ballot closing.
A record number of votes - 127 out of World Sailing’s total membership of 145 MNAs - were cast in this groundbreaking first round.
The result signifies that Andersen’s quest for a second term has not been blown off course by concerns within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding himself and another candidate, Perry.
These came to light in an email to the World Sailing Election Commission from Ng Ser Miang, an IOC vice-president and former vice-president of the International Sailing Federation.
This purported to relay comments by Pâquerette Girard Zappelli, the IOC’s chief ethics and compliance officer, about "the current [World Sailing] President who faced three consecutive issues brought to the [World Sailing] Ethics Commission - this situation which might tarnish the reputation of [World Sailing]".
Andersen, who denies wrongdoing, has filed an ethics complaint against Ng, who has also been accused by World Sailing of intervening in the election.
The IOC, meanwhile, has emphasised that the comments set out in the email were "not the statement of an official position".
A victory for the Dane’s sole remaining opponent - Li, the 58-year-old director-general of China’s National Olympic Sports Centre - would not be straightforward for the IOC to navigate either.
The emergence of a Chinese President of a Summer Olympic International Federation would bestow international prestige on the country’s sports system at a time when its perceived aggression across a range of international trade, human rights and political issues is under heavy criticism, including calls for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
The former long-time secretary general and vice-president of the Chinese Yachting Association could benefit from World Sailing’s financial issues, if he can persuade first-round backers of Perry and Seeliger that he can deliver much-needed new sponsors, presumably from China, in the intensely difficult current commercial climate.
He has expressed confidence that he can "bring valuable sponsorships and support to World Sailing".
Further analysis is difficult without knowing the first-round scores.
However, it was noticeable that the United States MNA nominated only Perry, under World Sailing’s complicated nominations system.
If this is a reliable indicator of its first-round vote, it seems unlikely that it or its closest allies would now swing behind a Chinese candidate, given the current international political climate.
Andersen originally won the Presidency in 2016, in another tight contest in which he dramatically ousted Italy’s Carlo Croce.
This made him the first candidate to unseat an incumbent in World Sailing’s more than century-long history.
World Sailing also announced today that a result has "been obtained" in the contemporaneous vice-presidential election and that no further rounds of voting are necessary.
It said the results would be notified to the General Assembly during its meeting on November 1.