Norway’s 22-year-old slalom skier Henrik Kristoffersen is demanding as much as NOK 15 million from the country’s national skiing federation if it continues to prevent him from wearing the logo of Red Bull, which wants to sponsor him. It’s the latest twist in a legal conflict that’s upsetting the entire ski team, its management and skiing superstar Aksel Lund Svindal.
It all started when Red Bull offered Kristoffersen a lucrative sponsorship deal that he wasn’t allowed to accept under skiing federation rules. They call for all skiers on the national team to be covered only by approved team sponsors with the exception of downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal. He was allowed to accept a Red Bull sponsorship several years ago, when the federation had financial trouble.
Now Kristoffersen wants to ski with Red Bull emblazoned on his caps and helmet, too, and sued when the skiing federation held fast to its principles. On Friday, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that court documents in the case show that Kristoffersen is demanding NOK 15 million from the federation if it continues to prevent him for accepting a private Red Bull sponsorship.
The legal conflict has led to conflict within the team as well, with some team members and former top racers claiming that Kristoffersen is being greedy. Others have demanded he improve his attitude and become more of a team player, while still others don’t want Kristoffersen’s father to continue as his manager.
It all climaxed when Kristoffersen refused to take part in the last World Cup race and now there are concerns the conflict will affect the next races at Val-d’Isere. Claus Ryste, head of the alpine skiing team, claims it won’t: “We must separate the (legal proceedings) from the sport. He (Kristoffersen) wants to take his case to court, and that won’t have any effect on the sporting events next weekend.”
In the meantime, though, Kristoffersen and top skiing officials have been called in to meet with the judge in the case, for a pre-trial meeting aimed at settling out of court. It will take place in the Oslo City Courthouse next week. No decision is expected, though, before the slalom race at Val-d’Isere where Kristoffersen is due to make a comeback on December 4.
Svindal, meanwhile, told NRK that he doesn’t like the situation the national alpine team has landed in because of Kristoffersen’s conflict. “This is a completely new situation for us,” Svindal told NRK, adding that he thinks it’s all gotten the season off to a bad start for the entire team.
Kristoffersen reportedly agreed to apologize to his teammates for stirring up a fuss but it’s unclear whether his father, Lars Kristoffersen, will scale back his role in his son’s career. Kristoffersen told NRK he couldn’t understand the demand regarding his father, so it’s unlikely he agreed to it. Ryste refused to go into detail about what was discussed at the team meeting last week.
It’s all a major contrast to the team’s strong season last year, when they nailed 20 World Cup victories and were part of the world’s skiing elite. Kristoffersen did join a gathering of the slalom skiers at Ål in Hallingdal this week, where he took part in his first team training session since dropping out of the new season’s last races.
“This is no nice situation,” Svindal, who’s back in Norway after training in the US, told NRK. “We have always been good at being agreeable, or at least agreeing to disagree internally. Now we’re in a situation where the media has more information than those of us who are affected by it all.”
Svindal, an international skiing superstar, referred to himself as just “a tenth of the team” and said “we’ll just have to try tackling this in the best possible way.” Even before news broke of Kristoffersen’s NOK 15 million demand, however, Svindal said “some fundamental things need to be in place in order for things to function.” They don’t seem to be at present.