Ski federation dumps Northug

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Norway’s national ski federation (Norges Skiforbund) has lost patience with champion skier Petter Northug and his refusal to accept an offer he’d received to be part of Norway’s men’s national ski team in the coming winter’s international competition. Now the federation is moving ahead without Northug on the team.

Petter Northug, with one of his gold medals from the Nordic World Ski Championships in 2015. PHOTO: Nordic Focus/FIS Photo Pool

Petter Northug was allowed to ski for Norway last season as long as he abided by the national team’s sponsorships from November through April. He went on to win several gold medals at last winter’s Nordic World Ski Championships, but this season he wanted “commercial freedom” all through the ski season as well. The national ski federation has put its foot down and dropped Northug from the team, claiming that Northug’s sponsor Coop is “challenging Norwegian sports regulations and the fellowship of Norwegian athletics.” PHOTO: Nordic Focus/FIS Photo Pool

The federation declared on Monday that it would proceed with planning the upcoming World Cup skiing season “with those skiers who have signed an agreement (to take part)” and that the federation would not take “any further initiative towards Petter Northug” or his main personal sponsor, the Coop grocery store chain.

The move means that Northug won’t be part of the Norwegian national ski team either in World Cup competition or in the Tour de Ski.

Torbjørn Skogstad, leader of the federation’s cross-country skiing committee, informed the federation at a board meeting last weekend that neither Northug nor Coop had accepted the agreement offered in June that would have allowed Northug to ski for Norway in international competition. The federation claims it offered Northug the same agreement he’d had last year, in which he could have “athletic freedom” and maintain his sponsorship from Coop until the start of the skiing season in November, “but that he then would have to commit himself to the national team and its sponsors throughout the season (until April), with the same rights and obligations as all the other skiers on the team.”

The board acknowledged that Northug wouldn’t accept those terms again for this year. “Northug has given us a message back that he wants commercial freedom throughout the season,” Skogstad wrote in a press release issued Monday. “Therefore this isn’t about accommodating an athlete any longer.” He noted that it’s not possible for Norway’s ski federation to deviate from its principle that all who represent Norway and qualify for such representation “must respect the national team’s commercial rights. It’s those rights that secure the national team’s operations and financing of Norwegian skiing.”

The federation stated that it has been “positive towards long-term, individual accommodation of our skiers,” and that it can accommodate skiers who enter into personal sponsorship agreements.” It cannot, however, accept agreements that “conflict with the federation’s own, exclusive agreements. That’s what the issue with Petter Northug is about.”

Coop accused of challenging the ski team’s model
The federation also took the opportunity to criticize Coop, noting that Norway’s athletics movement and national cooperatives have always worked towards fellowship and finding common solutions. “For that reason, Norway’s ski federaton is very surprised that Coop (as Northug’s sponsor) was the one to challenge the Norwegian national team’s model, a model that has a goal of making sure Norway will be a nation of skiers and also the world’s best ski nation.”

No skiers can represent Norway in international competition without an agreement with the federation. The board, it stated, “has registered that Petter Northug doesn’t want to sign an agreement … for the coming season. We are very sorry about this.”

Northug’s manager Åre Sørum Langås told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Northug and Coop would wait with a response to the federation’s decision to effectively ban Northug from the national team. “We register that the ski federation has issued a press release,” Langås told NRK. “We will come with an accounting of this in a few days. Apart from that I have no comment today.”

Northug, who redeemed himself with several gold medals last season after a disastrous season the year earlier that ended with drunk driving and a jail term, has said on a previous occasion that he may devote his energies to long-distance races this winter, which he can do on his own without being part of the national team.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund