By Heinz Glasses
Abensberg – Otto Kneitinger ticks off the past four months as a “valuable experience”, as a challenging and instructive time. Almost overnight, the Abensberger became interim president of the European Judo Union (EJU) after his friend and long-time companion, the Russian Sergey Soloveychik, vacated this position against the background of the Ukraine war. Now the EJU has set the personnel course at an extraordinary congress in Vienna. At his own request, the Lower Bavarian is moving back into the second rank, taking on his traditional role as Vice President with a focus on marketing and sponsorship.
“The change went smoothly,” reports Kneitinger. The new EJU boss is the Hungarian Laszlo Toth. He is taking over an association that, in the currently extremely tense political environment, has decided to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in international competitions again – under a neutral flag.
Otto Kneitinger thinks this is the right way. “Sport can connect if you leave politics out. The pass shouldn’t be the deciding factor. We have the ‘Judo for Peace’ project, we even managed to get Israelis and Iranians to compete against each other again in the world association,” says the 67-year-old, but at the same time emphasizes: “Anyone who misbehaves will be banned immediately.”
The trained confectioner, hotelier and entrepreneur from Lower Bavaria is an old hand in the judo business and has shaped TSV Abensberg into the German record champion and European Cup winner. Nevertheless, his function as EJU boss and “vice” in the world association presented him with new challenges.
“Sometimes you are simply overwhelmed when it comes to certain regulations because you lack experience,” admits Kneitinger. As an example he mentions the change of a fighter to another national association. There are Ukrainian judoka who have emigrated who have decided to take this step.
Added to this was the time burden. Thousands of e-mails came in and the phone rang late into the night. “It was bumpy at the beginning. Then it got better and in the end it was really fun,” Kneitinger looks back on the four months, but emphasizes: “It shouldn’t be a permanent situation.”
The time at the head of the continental association was also instructive on a personal level. “I always ask myself in life whether I’m dealing with an honest person or not. It’s unbelievable how differently some people behave towards you just because you hold a higher post,” says Kneitinger, adding: “I despise that. I didn’t suddenly become a different person because of it.”
As the EJU’s marketing expert, Kneitinger has already concluded contracts worth around four million euros for the period leading up to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Then he will be 70 and wants to “definitely draw a line” under his official career. However, he had previously indicated his withdrawal several times, but never fully completed it. “You have to be careful not to miss the right moment,” Kneitinger notes.