Norway’s beleaguered national ski federation, already fending off a major doping scandal, got hit with another problem on Wednesday. One of its star downhill racers has filed suit against the federation (Norges Skiforbund) over its refusal to allow him to accept a private sponsorship contract.
Henrik Kristoffersen, arguably the country’s most promising slalom skier, sued the federation and even said he may not feel fit enough to take part in the next World Cup race. The 22-year-old Kristoffersen wants to be able to have the same sort of sponsor agreement that fellow star skier Aksel Lund Svindal has with Red Bull, the energy drink maker that also sponsors some of the world’s top athletes.
Kristoffersen’s lawyer told state broadcaster NRK that the conflict has been brewing for around two years, since Red Bull first offered a lucrative deal to Kristoffersen. In addition to the money involved, Red Bull also offers its athletes the use of top training facilities and even private jet transport after races.
Svindal has been sponsored by Red Bull for years, in an agreement entered into before the skiing federation had major sponsors of its own such as Telenor. Now, its so-called “Norwegian model” mandates that all Norwegian athletes skiing on Norway’s national team display only the national team’s sponsors’ logos on their caps and helmets. Svindal, however, has been allowed to retain Red Bull’s contract, and sport Red Bull’s logo, since his Red Bull deal was agreed at an earlier stage.
Kristoffersen doesn’t think that’s fair, nor does he feel his complaints to the skiing federation have been taken seriously. During the week prior to the season opener at Sölden two weeks ago, Red Bull wanted an answer to its offer of a sponsorship after waiting for more than two years. Kristoffersen was unable to accept it, and was thus irritated both before and after the race, in which he placed a disappointing eighth.
Norges Skiforbund, faced with a challenge to its model for financing skiing, issued a press release Wednesday stating that it “fundamentally disagrees” with Kristoffersen’s views on the matter. Its board voted on Tuesday to maintain a ban on athletes’ own sponsors being displayed on ski caps or helmets, because of fears such practice could eventually weaken the basis for the entire team’s finances. That prompted Kristoffersen to file the lawsuit Wednesday in the Oslo City Court.
The federation said it would now try to separate the sports aspects of Kristoffersen’s participation on the team from his legal claim. “The last thing we want is for this (conflict) to affect racing results,” Stein Opsal, secretary general of the ski federation, told NRK.
That may happen, though, since Kristoffersen is now so irritated that he said he won’t race unless he feels “100 percent prepared,” his father and manager Lars Kristoffersen told NRK. “I hope he will be (ready to ski), but with the way things are now, it’s quite tough.”