Skier Kristoffersen loses sponsor fight

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The Oslo County Court has ruled against slalom skier Henrik Kristoffersen in his lawsuit against Norway’s national ski federation, Norges Skiforbund. He had sued the federation in order to ski with his own sponsorship logo on his helmet, but the court sided in favour of the ski team’s over the individual’s.

Skier Henrik Kristoffersen (left), his father and coach Lars Kristoffersen, and lawyer Odd Stemsrud in court during the week-long trial in March. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The long-awaited verdict was a disappointment for Kristoffersen, who’s been in conflict with the ski federation (and often his ski teammates) for several years. He claims that he should be allowed to profit from private sponsors, and wanted to replace the logo of the ski team’s national sponsor on his helmet with that of a private sponsor.

The court, however, backed the federation’s demand that all ski team members race with the team sponsor in prime place. Federation officials had argued that allowing Kristoffersen to ski with his own logo would undermine the entire sponsor financing model for Norwegian athletics. Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor has also paid for the best exposure and must therefore get it, the federation argued.

The court concluded that athletic sponsorship regulations and the federation’s practice regarding individual skier’s personal sponsor deals are fully in line with the rules of the European Economic Area, of which Norway is a member. The federation was therefore acquitted of Kristoffersen’s claim that it hindered his right to earn money on his own merits, and that it should pay him compensation of NOK 15 million in lost sponsorship revenue.

‘Fellowship and solidarity’ prevailed
The local court cleared the federation of Kristoffersen’s claim, by ruling that the rights of both Kristoffersen and the federation are in balance, according to the federation’s own attorney, Per Andreas Bjørgan. Federation president Erik Røst was jubilant: “I’m glad that Norway’s ski federation has won this case. This is an important verdict not only for Skiforbundet but for all of Norwegian athletics. The verdict fundamentally clarifies how we finance top athletics, and provide for recruiting, sports for children and youth and a wide range of activities.”

Tom Tvedt, head of Norway’s national athletics association NIF (Norges idrettsforbund), was also relieved: “NIF is naturally very glad for the acquittal (of the federation). Norwegian sports is built upon a model of fellowship and a principle of solidarity, that all sponsorship income should be for the good of everyone.”

Kristoffersen, who has wanted to personally benefit from his own performance on the downhill slopes, was “very disappointed” and is considering an appeal. He thinks he should have been allowed to enter into a personal sponsorship deal with drinks maker Red Bull, and sport its logo on his helmet instead of Telenor’s.

“I knew I was facing a steep slope in the attempt to get the Oslo court to change its view,” Kristoffersen stated, adding that he “respects how the court has come to another conclusion than the one we believe is correct.”  He and his lawyers will now “sit down and read the verdict through, and decide whether to appeal.

Kristoffersen claims lack of individual rights
He insisted his legal battle with the ski federation hasn’t been in vain: “The case has highlighted us individual athletes’ lack of rights, and the ski federation’s total ownership of our sponsorship rights.” He claimed he’s had “massive support from many athletes in a wide range of sports, and from sports leaders in various clubs and teams who have said that I have fought a battle on behalf of many.”

Kristoffersen has also stressed that it wasn’t just the money he’d get from Red Bull but also access to its support apparatus, which can include being flown more speedily and in comfort to various competitions. He also argued that his arch rival, Marcel Hirscher of Austria, has Red Bull as a sponsor and therefore has an advantage over Kristoffersen.

“I don’t quarrel over things that aren’t important,” Kristoffersen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the World Cup season ended in Andorra. “I only quarrel over things that can make me a better skier.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund