Troubles mount for football bosses

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Norwegian men’s football is being kicked on all sides lately, with media commentators worrying that the game’s reputation is now seriously at risk. The problems go far beyond the national team’s latest disappointing loss, to Slovenia on Friday, and the credibility of the leaders at Norway’s football federation (NFF) is increasingly in doubt.

The men in charge of Norwegian football confronted the problem of match-fixing at a press conference on Sunday, five years after a national team match reportedly was fixed. From left: Yngve Hallen, Kjetil Siem and Svein Graff of The Football Association of Norway (Norges Fotballforbund, NFF). PHOTO: NFF/Christer Madsen

The men in charge of Norwegian football, shown here confronting the problem of match-fixing last year, now face a serious decline in football’s reputation. From left: Yngve Hallen, Kjetil Siem and Svein Graff of The Football Association of Norway (Norges Fotballforbund, NFF). PHOTO: NFF/Christer Madsen

The 3-0 defeat in Slovenia meant that Norway’s national team (landslaget) lost its last chance to qualify for the World Cup. It ended a week that already had seen a storm of criticism against NFF leaders over how they’d allegedly pushed aside the team’s veteran coach, Egil “Drillo” Olsen, to clear the way for Per Mathias Høgmo, who’d hoped for a far better result for his own national coaching debut.

While Olsen’s wife vented her anger in national media over how Olsen had been treated, the board of NFF (Norges Fotballforbund) started asking questions as well, over whether NFF secretary general Kjetil Siem and NFF president Yngve Hallén had exceeded their authority.

Kjetil Siem, one of Norway's top football bureaucrats, has defended the way NFF has handled its many problems of late, not least the replacement of head coach Egil "Drillo" Olsen. Siem, shown here being interviewed by state broadcaster NRK, has also made it clear that he dislikes the criticism NFF has been getting. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Kjetil Siem, one of Norway’s top football bureaucrats, has defended the way NFF has handled its many problems of late, not least the replacement of head coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen. Siem, shown here being interviewed by state broadcaster NRK, has also made it clear that he dislikes the criticism NFF has been getting. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

They’re the same two men who also have had to fend off one scandal after another in Norwegian football, not least the so-called “Gunnarsson case,” which ended up with a court trial over how the transfer of a player from one Oslo-area club to another was handled. The fact that the clubs were ultimately acquitted doesn’t automatically reverse the damage all the allegations of insider dealing did for the reputation of the sport. And now the controversy has degenerated into claims for financial compensation that only the lawyers can win.

Controversy has also arisen over NFF’s sale of media rights to football coverage, with TV2 ultimately getting squeezed out. That didn’t stop NFF from complaining last week about how TV2, which still has the rights to the national team matches, decided to move the airing of Tuesday’s last (and now moot) World Cup qualifying match against Iceland from its main channel to its Zebra channel. The NFF officials threatened legal action without seeming to listen to TV2’s reason for the switch: Low viewership and poor ratings for the national football matches.

New head coach Per Mathias Høgmo is now charged with building up Norway's national men's football team. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

New head coach Per Mathias Høgmo is now charged with building up Norway’s national men’s football team. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

That led commentator Erlend Nesje in newspaper Aftenposten to claim that NFF overestimates itself and underestimates its critical public. Instead of resorting to legal action, Nesje suggested, they should rather show a trace of humility and recognition that Norwegian football just isn’t attacting the audiences or public support it should, for all kinds of reasons.

Attendance at matches has been falling for years, setting off another major problem for the NFF bosses in the form of financial losses and poor economy at many of the country’s professional clubs. New figures released just last week show that the financial situation for men’s professional football in Norway has deteriorated, with revenues at top clubs down by NOK 18 million compared to last year. Expenses, meanwhile, rose by NOK 33 million. The healthiest clubs included Strømsgodset and Rosenborg, with clubs like Start and Hønefoss “in the sick bay,” reported newspaper Dagsavisen.

All this comes on top of other scandals over alleged match-fixing, and the result is that Norwegian men’s football’s reputation is sinking into what Dagsavisen calls a “crisis.” Commentators don’t buy NFF’s defense that the waning support for men’s football is mostly tied to poor match results. “There are many other reasons why Norwegian football’s reputation doesn’t stand in relation to its position as a major sport, or the country’s natural interest in it,” Tor Kise Karlsen wrote in a commentary in Dagsavisen over the weekend.

Nesje seems to agree. He also cited an NFF official who had complained to Aftenposten that the newspaper was devoting far too much space to cross-country skiing, right after Norwegian skiers had mined a gold rush at the World Championships. “Why do you write so much about winter sports?” Nesje was asked. “You should have more football in your columns.” To which Nesje replied that football first had better improve.

New coach asks for ‘patience’
It should be noted that women’s football, meanwhile, is doing much better than the men and returned to Norway as heroines after last summer’s European Championships. Høgmo, the new national coach for the men, meanwhile, asked for “patience” over the weekend amidst fears that national interest in his squad is in the dumps.

They will still meet Iceland on Tuesday, for their obligatory last World Cup qualifier, and then Høgmo will get to work on building up the team for the next men’s European Championships. He promises more offensive play, better ball handling and, in general, a major change in how Norway plays. Høgmo wants more matches and for team players to keep the national team in mind while playing for their respective professional clubs.

“We have to use every single day, every gathering and every match as best we can,” Høgmo told Aftenposten, if Norwegian men’s football is to redeem itself.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund