Years of conflicts in his job as secretary general of Norway’s national athletics federation (Norges Idrettsforbund, NIF) finally caught up with Inge Andersen on Monday. The board of NIF asked him to resign after a recent flurry of marathon meetings, but he’ll leave with NOK 2 million in severance pay.
That’s controversial in Norway, a country where local athletics clubs all over the country rely on volunteer work, have tight budgets and limited facilities except at the highest levels of sports. Athletics receives millions of state funding every year, but it’s not organized through schools, as in many other countries, rather through the national and local organizations called IL (idrettslag).
Reigning at the top of it all since 2004 has been Andersen, despite frequent conflicts and criticism over his management style, alleged arrogance, high spending and secrecy. Andersen and other top sports bureaucrats, for example, refused for years to disclose their travel expenses and Andersen especially caught criticism over his campaign to host another Winter Olympics in Norway, this time in Oslo. He seemed to dismiss the huge expense involved and lobbied city and state officials hard despite growing public opposition to the project. Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her government finally refused to put up the necessary financial guarantee, and the project was halted, but only after hundreds of millions had already been spent on consultants and planning.
Andersen and other top NIF officials especially caught criticism over the money they spent lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Sochi, which went down in history as the most expensive Olympics ever. After Andersen and other sports bureaucrats traveled to Sochi and then refused to disclose their travel expenses, a grass-roots protest led to more criticism. “The situation in Norwegian athletics and the public’s need for insight in how public funds are spent leads me to believe it’s necessary to demand full openness of NIF’s top leaders,” the government minister in charge of their state funding, Linda Hofstad Helleland, told NRK last year.
Yet Andersen continued to survive in his position as did Tom Tvedt, the president of NIF, despite Helleland’s rebuke. Finally, after Norwegian sports officials also were accused last year of arrogance and incompetence that left two skiers facing doping charges, a series of internal meetings began that sealed Andersen’s fate. Newspapers Aftenposten and VG, along with many other media outlets, reported that a lengthy meeting of NIF’s board was followed last week by a marathon seven-hour session with Andersen’s position as the main item on the agenda. “Clean up!” editorialized Aftenposten, while NRK reported that NIF’s board was split over whether to fire Andersen, who had held his post for 13 years.
More meetings were held through this past weekend. Andersen was reportedly urged to quit and he decided to go along, not least after securing his severance package.
“The athletics board has chosen to peer into the future,” Andersen told NRK on its nationwide newscast Dagsrevyen on Monday. “Thirteen years as secretary general is a long time. They evaluated the situation such that they wanted to bring in new strengths.”
Andersen insisted there had been “a dialogue, and it was a fine dialogue with the board. This is an overall evaluation and we agree that my time as secretary general is over.” His duties will now be taken over by assistant secretary general Øystein Dale until a permanent replacement is appointed.
Asked why he thought his leadership style has been highlighted as a reason for the dissatisfaction with his work, Andersen replied that “when you lead Norway’s largest public movement with 2.2 million members, you will get lots of criticism and praise. I’m responsible for more than 300 employees. I must respect that some colleagues, over such a long period of employment, have criticized my style.”
Defends his severance pay package
Andersen will officially leave at the end of this week, on March 31. Asked how he thought people would react to his severance pay package, he said he could “understand that two million kroner (around USD 238,000) is a lot of money, but this was regulated through an agreement I entered into already in 2004 when I became secretary general.” He also said it was “normal” at high management levels and he exhibited so sign of any bad conscience despite how volunteerism is expected at local levels.
Tvedt, who has been under criticism himself, claimed there was no concrete event that led to Andersen’s departure. “This is a total evaluation we have made,” Tvedt told NRK. He declined to go into further detail. “What’s important here is that we will develop Norwegian athletics. We are glad we have had Inge, but now we’ll move forward with the right focus. We’re parting as friends.”
Helleland, the government minister, said Andersen’s departure came as news to her. She has been among the outspoken critics of his and Tvedt’s lack of openness regarding athletics financing and their own expense accounts. Criticism also flew when it became known that they had spent millions hiring PR firm First House in connection with the doomed Olympics campaign. “I want less administration and less bureaucracy and more money going out to sports and activity all over the country,” Helleland told NRK. “Especially to children and youth.” She also called for Norway’s sports officials to adopt a “more modest” style.
‘Lost contact with the grass roots’
It was the personnel conflicts and power struggles with fellow athletics officials and athletes themselves, though, that unleashed much of the turbulence around Andersen. He offended several of the sports organizations including the skiing, cycling and swimming federations, while others complained of poor cooperation and communication. In 2010 he quarreled publicly with skier Petter Northug over Northug’s alleged lack of respect, his private Red Bull sponsorship and for playing high-stakes poker. In 2013 another conflict flared between Andersen and Jarle Aambø, another top sports administrator, and Aambø quit after Norwegian athletes only brought home four medals from the Summer Olympics in London in 2012.
Leif Welhaven, a sports commentator for newspaper VG, which has closely covered the turbulence at NIF, told NRK Monday night that Andersen “resisted openness from the beginning” and that it was “just a matter of time” before heads had to roll. Reidar Sollie of newspaper Dagsavisen agreed.
“There has been a lot of unrest around the leadership of Norwegian athletics,” Sollie told NRK. He thinks Andersen and others simply lost contact with the grass roots of sports.