Sparks fly over ski jumpers’ sponsor

Bookmark and Share

The Norwegian women’s national ski jumping team is catching flak even before the winter season gets underway.  Sports bureaucrats have approved its sponsorship by a local arms manufacturer, and critics claim the deal defies Norway’s image as a champion of peace.

Norway's female ski jumpers posed with a rocket during a visit to Nammo last week. From left: Line Jahr, Anette Sagen, Silje Sparkehaug, Gyde Enger and Maren Lundby. PHOTO: Norges Skiforbund

Debate has raged over the deal since it emerged last week, and groups from Amnesty International to a Christian aid organization are calling it inappropriate, even “shameful.”

The deal also has raised charges of hypocrisy, since the very sports bureaucrats who struck the deal were themselves critical of cross-country skiing star Petter Northug’s sponsorship last year by energy drink producer Red Bull.

“Weapons manufacturers are fine, energy drink producers are ethically questionable,” wrote newspaper Aftenposten questioningly when describing the debate over who is a suitable sports sponsor.

Strong reactions from both individuals and organizations have been voiced, as Norway’s governing sports association Idrettsforbundet and its skiing organization Norges Skiforbund announced a sponsorship deal between the women’s national ski jump team and arms producer Nammo, which has produced weapons that have been used both in Iraq and on the Gaza Strip.

‘Promoting products that kill people’
“Improving jumping skills is not what Nammo usually does,” wrote commentator Erling Borgen in newspaper Dagsavisen. “The truth of the matter is that the women ski jumpers are going to be promoting a company that makes products that kill people.” Borgen called the sponsorship by a weapons manufacturer “shameful.”

The secretary general of Amnesty International in Norway, John Peder Egenæs, was also upset. “For me it’s a question of what kind of image Norwegian sports want and what impression Norway makes abroad,” Egenæs told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I didn’t think it was our weapons industry that we most wanted to show off.”

Changemaker, the youth organization for Norwegian Church Aid (Kirkens Nødhjelp), is equally critical of Norwegian arms export and dislikes the deal made by Norwegian skiing’s governing body.

“Everyone knows that Norway is a big ski jumping nation and a big peace-promoting nation,” Changemaker spokesperson Markus Nilsen told Aftenposten. Nilsen noted that group actually has “worked for many years” to also draw attention to Norway’s role “as one of the world’s major weapons exporters.” Changemaker, though, doesn’t support the link between sports and weapons.

Defending the deal
Several sports officials, including the men’s ski jumpers’ own popular coach Mika Kojonkoski, do. Nammo’s rocket scientists could help the jumpers exploit aerodynamics on a detailed level, Kojonkoski said, while sports chief Clas Brede Bråthen believes the Nammo experts “can help find the perfect jumping curve.”

Inge Andersen, secretary general of the ski association offered another creative defense of the deal, claiming that the association’s historic predecessor group even included “weapons use” in its name and noting that the biathlon team, which combines skiing and shooting, already has a sponsorship deal with a Nammo subsidiary.

He added that Nammo’s own predecessor firm, Raufoss Ammunisjonsfabrik, has long been part of Norway’s defense strategy and thus plays a “responsible” role in Norwegian society.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
Join our Forum if you’d like to comment on this story.