High hopes but low attendance at ‘OL’

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Far fewer Norwegians were expected to be attending this year’s Winter Olympics (called simply “OL” in Norway), even though Norway excels in winter sports and hopes are high for more medals. Ticket sales have been modest, and cost-cutting after scandalous spending by Norwegian sports bureaucrats has also cut the ranks of official attendance and sports fans.

Hopes are high for Norwegian athletes at the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea, but attendance by officials and fans will be lower than normal. PHOTO: Pyeongchang2018

Tom Tvedt, embattled president of Norway’s sports federation (Norges Idrettsforbundet, NIF), is one of only two members of NIF’s board attending the Olympics, which begins this weekend. Board members often all attend, but not in the wake of revelations about high-spending at recent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Sochi and London.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported earlier this week that Kristin Kloster Aasen, an NIF vice president, will also be in Pyeonchang, but in her role as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). NIF’s new secretary general Karen Kvalevåg, charged with “cleaning up” the NIF system, will be at the Olympics as well, along with six members of NIF’s administration, but that’s a small delegation compared to past years.

Ticket sales slow
Ticket sales handled through NIF, meanwhile, have been modest, with just 597 sold in Norway. “That’s the number we’ve given to the (Norwegian) embassy (in Seoul),” Elisabeth Seeberg, events chief for NIF, told Aftenposten.

She noted that Norwegians can buy tickets through many other outlets, however, and that the embassy expects that “a couple of thousand” Norwegians will be in South Korea during the course of the Olympics that run until late February, followed by the Paralympics in March. Norway has strong business ties with South Korea, especially in the areas of shipbuilding and offshore construction, and many Norwegians live in the country or elsewhere in Asia, and may make the trip to the winter games.

A total of around 270,000 tickets remained unsold a week before they began, most of them at the high end of the price scale where the most expensive cost more than the equivalent of NOK 10,000 (USD 1200). The unsold tickets amounted to around 25 percent of the total, but a top Korean official told media outlet insidethegames that he expected all to sell out.

Tickets to Norwegians’ favourite event, cross-country skiing, were among the cheapest at around NOK 600 (USD 75). Biathlon tickets were the next most-popular in Norway, with medals expected among Norwegian skiing stars in both. Tickets to the early Norwegian ice hockey matches cost NOK 1300 in Norway, while ski jumping cost around NOK 2000. Both are also popular, with Norway’s ski jumpers expected to do well.

Missiles rattled athletes
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg will also make the trip to South Korea, along with Crown Prince Haakon and the presidents of the various sports’ own federations, plus representatives for sponsors. Seeberg expected a total of 800 such “guests” of NIF, including embassy staff and workers at the Norwegian Seamans Church in South Korea.

Some sports fans may have been scared away by the missiles launched by North Korea over several months prior to the Winter Olympics, along with all the sabre-rattling between North Korea and the US. The tension had also rattled Norwegian athletes, with cross-country skier Martin Johnsrud-Sundby commenting last fall that “you don’t want to take part in an OL if missiles are flying over your head.” His family won’t be attending: “It wasn’t right, both because of the distance and that I don’t want to send the family to such an ustable area,” Johnsrud-Sundby told Aftenposten in September.

Several other athletes were also nervous, but recent diplomatic efforts by South Korea ended with North Korea suspending its missile-launching and even sending some athletes and representatives to South Korea. Now the athletes’ fears seem to have been cast aside as the games begin.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund