The new president of Norway’s national football federation NFF will need to worry about more than just getting qualified for the next rounds of championship play. Terje Svendsen is also charged with rebuilding the reputation of NFF and the sport itself.
Svendsen was, as expected, voted in as NFF’s new president at an annual meeting in Oslo over the weekend. Football bureaucrats from around the country gathered at a time when scandal has been characterizing the international football federation (FIFA) and the organization at home is in trouble, too. NFF has been the target of claims involving abuse of power, huge increases in the football bureaucrats’ pay, heavy spending, a lack of openness and questionable ethics.
In addition comes the usual pressure from outlying football clubs that need more money to ease tight budgets. On the one hand, football has regained popularity in Norway and newspaper Aftenposten has reported that the federation is earning more money than ever before. But leadership has been seen as lacking, many local clubs are hurting, and Svendsen, a former chairman of Rosenborg Football Club in Trondheim, is charged with making big changes as he takes over for Yngve Hallén, who chose to resign when his term as president was up.
“I want to stand for especially three things as president,” Svendsen claimed after his election on Sunday, adding that they included “openness, clarity and predictability.” He made it clear, during his opening address to delegates in the room, that “we have a job ahead of us.”
He’s taking on responsibility for Norwegian football that, at its highest levels, appears plagued by unsportsmanlike conduct. On Saturday, just as the football bureaucrats were gathering in Oslo, newspaper Dagbladet revealed an email sent by Ronny Aasland, director of strategy and business development at NFF, to vice president Bjarne Berntsen, former vice president Einar Schultz and a former assistant secretary general Stig-Ove Sandnes. In it, Aasland railed against the “damage” they all allegedly had done to the federation, the manner in which they have represented the federation, and an alleged lack of loyalty to the federation. Some called the mail “an undignified power struggle” while others admonished all the mostly men in NFF, with Cato Haug of Sarpsborg 085 claiming from the podium that “we can’t behave like this, folks. Then we’re destroying our own organization.”
Svendsen and his new board thus got the clear message that they’re expected to invoke “transparent leadership.” He told Aftenposten that he was glad Aasland’s email emerged just before he took over as president, on the theory that perhaps internal workings at NFF have hit a low point and can only go upover.
‘Good luck’ needed
Commentator Ola Bernhus wished Svendsen good luck, adding that he’ll need it. Svendsen ran unopposed, with a unanimous election committee claiming that Svendsen has the credentials to be a “clear and unifying leader for Norwegian football.” He was chairman of one of Norway’s most-winning clubs, Rosenborg (RBK), from 2006 to 2012 and a member of its board since 2000. He’s also worked in the banking and real estate industries and served on the boards of both a cabin construction firm (Saltdalshytta) and in the building business (Norsk Byggmontering). Bernhus noted that Svendsen “has some training” from an earlier crisis at Rosenborg that also involved allegations of free-spending bosses and internal conflict. Svendsen cut costs radically, replaced lavishness with moderation and the club is back on track.
The gathering was tough for all involved, and Hallén’s send-off seemed to smother in what Bernhus called a “weekend nightmare.” Mending fences after Aasland’s brutal email would have been tough enough, but still ranks below the biggest job ahead, which involves sharing power and money nationwide. While the federation gets richer, local clubs face having to sell players to survive economically. That’s what Svendsen needs to change first and foremost, according to critics.