Monday Media for Oct. 17: Norwegian women’s team faces the future, Russian athletes returning to World Cup racing?


Welcome back to Monday Media, a weekly feature that curates some of the most insightful (as it were) recent news stories from home and abroad. The focus will be primarily, but not exclusively, on the foreign press. This week: Norwegian sport leaders take a hard look at the present and future of the women’s team post-Johaug, and FIS Secretary General Michael Vion signals a potential openness to lifting the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes’ participation in World Cup racing, subject to approval from the International Olympic Committee.

N.b., all non-English articles mentioned here were viewed with Google Translate. If your browser does not automatically translate an article for you when you follow the link given in this piece, copy and paste its URL here.

Therese Johaug at the medal ceremony, 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Norwegian sport leaders take a hard look at women’s team

The recent performance of Norwegian women, or at least one Norwegian woman, at the top of the results sheet has been unassailable: At the 2022 Olympics, Therese Johaug swept the distance races for the third global championship in a row (10km, 30km, and skiathlon in all of Beijing, Oberstdorf, and Seefeld), a stunning level of consistent individual dominance.

But behind Johaug, the cupboard has grown somewhat bare, with Maiken Caspersen Falla’s eighth place in the sprint ranking as the second-best Norwegian women’s result in Beijing behind Johaug. (For perspective, while Jessie Diggins famously won two medals in Beijing, the American women’s second-best results were fourth, fifth, and sixth, all by Rosie Brennan.) And Johaug, now 34, of course retired this spring.

A committee led by famed sports scientist Øyvind Sandbakk of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology interviewed more than 60 stakeholders for a report on the scope of this problem and potential solutions, NRK reported over the weekend. The report, which was released on Saturday, outlined a number of recommendations for change, including refinements to the national team model, a greater focus on female-specific health and nutrition, and an increased attention to the off-course life issues that might make it difficult for women to pursue world-class sport through their 20s: “facilitation in connection with studies, work, finances and predictability / support around having children during the career,” per an auto-translation.

The generational data are stark, according to data compiled by both NRK and Aftenposten, with the Swedish women achieving vastly more podium finishes by women under 30 than the Norwegian women did during the last decade.

Johaug has generally demurred about her thoughts on any issues with team culture in response to Sandbakk’s report, while promising to be forthcoming about this in her upcoming memoir, to be released later this month. Read the full articles on NRK here and here.

FIS Council to decide on Russian and Belarusian World Cup participation later this week

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from participating in FIS events, at any level, since March 1 of this year, when the FIS Council adopted an International Olympic Committee recommendation to bar Russian and Belarusian representatives from international competition.

But FIS Secretary General Michael Vion, speaking at a forum last month in connection with an inspection visit at 2023 World Championships venue Planica, signalled that FIS could potentially be open to relaxing this restriction, subject to buy-in from the International Olympic Committee, or IOC.

Speaking at the 5:56 mark of this video:

Vion said, according to a rough transcription by Nordic Insights:

“For the moment, [the] existing rules, existing ban against Russia and Belarus exist, still. It looks like IOC President Thomas Bach [is starting] to think about more or less open[ing] the door again, and to make that the sport could or should be independent from the politics. It will take [some time], but the idea starts to be there, to open again the door to a participation of the Russian and Belarusians. We are not talking about competition in Russia, we are talking about participation of athletes on the FIS World Cup event. One thing for sure, FIS will not take on this decision without a strong recommendation from the IOC.”

Vion stated that, if athletes were to compete in the World Cup again this season, they would do so under a neutral flag. He further emphasized that it would be a “common decision,” and that FIS would await a recommendation from the IOC.

A final decision on this matter will be made at the FIS Council meetings this Saturday, October 22.

Swedish stars Maja Dahlqvist and Linn Svahn have previously stated that they would boycott the 2023 World Championships in Slovenia if Russian and Belarusian athletes were allowed to compete.

In what appears to be the most recent English-language coverage of this issue from state-owned Russian news agency TASS, an October 4 article stated that FIS “should punish the Norwegian Ski Federation for their alleged discrimination of Russian citizens.” Dmitry Svishchev, Chairman of the Duma Committee on Physical Culture and Sports, criticized Norwegian leaders for declining to attend FIS fall council meetings in response to Russian and Belarusian attendance.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

— Gavin Kentch

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