With hundreds of thousands of spectators descending on Oslo over the next two weeks for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2011 (known as ‘Ski-VM’ in Norwegian), all eyes will be on the capital – and Ski-VM CEO Åsne Havnelid, the woman responsible for ensuring that it all goes smoothly.
While Havnelid can hardly be expected to deliver the Norwegian medals craved by the hometown crowd, there is a great deal of pressure on the competition organizer to make sure that the thousands of spectators who will trek up to Holmenkollen each day during the championships will be able to do so easily. Indeed, she has been working since summer 2007 to get everything ready for the 12-day-long event.
The 47-year-old Havnelid has a broad range of experience in sports and business to call upon. A former alpine skier who once finished fifth in the Norwegian national championships, she was once in charge of Norges Toppidrettsgymnas, a prestigious sports academy that has trained many of Norway’s top athletes. Between 1998 and 2004, she took charge of Olympiatoppen, an organization responsible for training future Olympians. She was also second-in-command of five Norwegian Olympic teams, before briefly leaving sport from 2004 to 2007 in order to take a position at airline SAS, where she had responsibility for around 1,800 cabin crew staff.
With so much scrutiny over Ski-VM, Havnelid’s job has been far from easy. Controversy over the cost of the new ski jump and facilities at Holmenkollen have claimed senior political scalps on Oslo city council, while fears over whether the public transport system can cope have been regularly expressed in the press. The organization has also failed to sell all the tickets for the events, although they are likely to still make a profit. She has also had to deal with speculation over her future after the competition, turning down an offer to become the new president of the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (Norges Idrettsforbund, NIF).
One of the main challenges cited for Havnelid has been her status as a woman in a sport where men are still felt to dominate. Her decision to chose a leadership team of which half are women is also seen as going against the grain. The CEO has been outspoken about the need for women to “dare more” and “be tougher,” as she put it to newspaper Aftenposten, where she also stressed that she had picked her team on the basis of their ability to achieve her goals.
After all, Havnelid’s aims are very ambitious for Oslo’s Ski-VM 2011, as she proclaimed on their official website that she would “give the world a feeling that Oslo is the winter capital of Europe.” The next 12 days will see whether this can become a reality.