Last year Norway’s national language council (Språkrådet) chose a variation of “Corona” (koronaen) as the one new word that was most used or had a defining effect on society. This year’s word: “sportsvaske,” the Norwegian equivalent of the “sportswashing” that describes how authoritarian countries’ leaders use international sports to help clean up their bad image.
The council chooses one word every year that’s viewed as both defining major events and that the council wants to distinguish. Its choice doesn’t amount to official acceptance of a new word, or guarantee that it will be included in dictionaries, but it’s meant to recognize a word that reflects current events, is used often, can have a long lifetime and is of “good quality.”
In this case, sportsvaske is used as a verb and viewed as a “politically important word,” according to language scholar Helene Uri. “It’s a way of putting the entire issue of ‘sportswashing’ on the agenda,” Uri told state broadcaster NRK. “It’s good that the council chose such a word.”
Many Norwegians, not least sports fans, have harshly criticized how Qatar was chosen to host next year’s World Cup in football and how Beijing was chosen to host the upcoming Winter Olympics. Both countries are widely accused of violating human rights, persecuting minorities and forbidding freedom of expression and the press. Debate has raged over proposed boycotts of both the World Cup and the Olympics, especially after two Norwegian journalists were recently arrested and jailed in Qatar over their critical coverage of how foreign workers in Qatar are exploited. Both Qatar and China are accused of using the athletic events or investment in athletics to put themselves in a better light.