Russian athletes expected to compete in Norway despite Norwegian Ski Association message that they are not welcome

Ski CenterFebruary 28, 2022

On February 26th, the Norwegian Ski Association (NSA) released a statement indicating that in light of the nation’s recent invasion of the Ukraine, Russian participation was not welcome at the upcoming World Cup sprint races in Dramman or the storied Holmenkollen distance races outside of Oslo. In addition to these cross country events, Norway is scheduled to host competitions in alpine, nordic combined, and ski jumping, including the World Ski Flying Championships in Vikersund. 

A press release shared by Norwegian news source NRK stated: “The board of the Norwegian Ski Association has today discussed the situation related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and how this affects the upcoming World Cup races and the world championship in Norway. The Norwegian Ski Association’s message to Russia and Russian athletes is crystal clear; We do not want their participation!”

NSA president Erik Røste told NRK that a request had been made to the International Ski Federation (FIS) to officially bar the Russian program from participating, but as of Saturday, FIS had not taken action to comply with the request, instead pointing to the official cancellation of remaining FIS events held in Russia. 

“The attack on the Ukrainian people and the great suffering we see pictures of now, the sport can not remain passive and be neutral,” Røste said of the request. “Therefore, the board of the Norwegian Ski Association was clear that this must have consequences beyond what has already been decided. Therefore, we will send a clear and distinct signal to FIS that we do not want Russia and Russian athletes to participate in competitions in Norway in the coming weeks.”

Ultimately, it is up to the board of FIS whether Russia will be allowed to compete in the remainder of World Cup events. A response NRK received via email today stated: 

The FIS board has been clear in its approach to Russian athletes in all FIS competitions. To ensure fair and inclusive competitions at all FIS events, national federations and local organizers should not exclude athletes on the grounds of gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation.”

Alexander Bolshunov (RUS) wins the 2020 Holmenkollen 50 k in the fog, ahead of Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger. (Photo: NordicFocus)

As such, no Russian athletes or coaches have been denied entry to Norway, and Stefan Marx, the general manager of Holmenkollen ski festival, indicated there is little more that the organizers can do to prevent Russian participation in the events.

“We must let them participate,” Marx said to NRK. “Those who FIS and the Norwegian Ski Association say must be allowed to participate. We do not have the authority to refuse anyone to participate, but we have supported the Ski Association and the Sports Association’s position. It is up to FIS or the authorities to decide, but we are clear in our support for the Ski Association’s proposal that Russian athletes are not wanted due to violations of international law that have been committed.”

After flying from Helsinki following the Lahti World Cup races, Russian teams have begun to arrive in Norway. When pressed by the media upon his arrival, World Cup distance leader and favorite for the upcoming 50 k classic at the Holmenkollen, Alexander Bolshunov chose to remain silent. NRK did, however, receive comments from multiple Russian coaches, including head coach Marcus Cramer who felt that sport and politics should be kept separate.

“​​What do sports and athletes have to do with this situation? It’s really tough. I just get sad that the Norwegian association thinks like that. We really have a good communication between us. With everyone who works there. It’s sad to hear this, especially when they take it to the press and not us first,” said Cramer.

Another Russian coach, Jegor Sorin, who had been working at the Junior/U23 World Championships in Lygna, NOR and planned to join the Russian team in Oslo, echoed that Russian athletes should not be held accountable for the 

I am very upset that the Norwegian association wants this,” Sorin told NRK. “I can understand that no one wants to travel to Tyumen for the World Cup, but I do not know what happens to us… We are Russian athletes. We are here, we are not in any war. We are athletes, not soldiers. Maybe they think we have weapons. We want peace and for me this is very strange.”

Alexander Bolshuonv is photographed with his four Olympic medals from the 2022 Games, with one event remaining. He would leave the Games with three gold medals, and a total of nine Olympic medals including those won in 2018. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Though the Russian coaches focused on a separation between sport and politics, others have pointed out the direct ties between sporting success and military recognition. Used as an example, Bolshunov and Denis Spitsov were promoted to the rank of captain in Russia’s National Guard in recognition of their success during the 2022 Olympics. Bolshunov, who has earned a medal in each of his nine Olympic appearances, including three gold medals in Beijing, received additional honors in the form of the Alexander Nevsky Order, given in recognition of “special service for the fatherland.”

FIS cross-country committee leader, Vegard Ulvang told NRK, “Russian athletes are [military] officers. This makes the symbolic value [of their participation] even greater.”

A similar statement was made by Global Athlete representative and former U.S. Ski Team athlete Noah Hoffman. 

“While I feel for the individual athletes, all Russian skiers should be banned from the FIS Cross Country World Cup for the rest of the season,” Hoffman tweeted. “Their results are used to drum up nationalism and bolster the Russian State. Allowing them to compete aids Russia. #StandWithUkraine.”

Ulvang is urging a stronger response from the Norwegian Ski Federation, suggesting that they relinquish the FIS World Cup status of the events at the Holmenkollen in order to gain the authority to prohibit Russian participation.

Jan Petter Saltvedt, a Sports Commentator for NRK described Ulvang’s statements as a “moral ultimatum.”

“Ulvang demands an open rebellion from NSF against his own superiors,” Saltvedt said. “And he should get it. Vegard Ulvang puts so much pressure on the Norwegian Ski Association that they can not help but act… At the same time, he expresses a very strong and clear criticism of FIS, where he himself is one of the powerful committee leaders, but still does not feel he is heard at all.”

Norwegian athletes who have been asked for comment have given mixed responses, often acknowledging the complexity of the issue and whether the athletes themselves should be at fault for government decisions.

Among those with a clear stance, Erik Valnes spoke of disallowing Russian participation. “There is a heavy symbolism in it. It would send a signal. Since [Bolshunov] is [a captain of the Russian National Guard], they have already mixed sports and politics in a way. It is difficult. It is a great pity that it will be like that.”

Erik Vales and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo earn gold in the classic team sprint during the 2022 Beijing Games. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Johannes Høsflot Klæbo also spoke in support of the NSA urging FIS to remove Russian athletes from competition.

“As an athlete, you want the best to start. We train all year to compete and then you want the best to participate,” Klæbo said to NRK. “At the same time, I support the attitude of the ski association now. There is no doubt about what is happening in Ukraine, and Russia must be condemned. I strongly condemn it and I think it is good that the association takes a stand.”

Therese Johaug acknowledged that athletes may not have direct involvement in the military actions of Russia, speaking instead to their role in representing their country through sport.

I feel sorry for the athletes, first and foremost, I understand that they have nothing to do with this,” Therese Johaug told NRK after narrowly winning Lahti’s 10 k classic over Russian Natalia Nepryaeva. “But on the other hand, I think it is completely wrong. They front their country and the flag both on the chest and on the forehead. And that a country should also ravage the sports arena and fight for victories and front their country in the situation we are in – I think that is completely wrong.”

Therese Johaug voices her thoughts on Russian World Cup participation following her win in Lahti’s 10 k classic. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The stance is not unanimous amongst the Norwegian team. Sindre Bjørnestad Skar, who took third in Lahti’s freestyle sprint, spoke to the unfairness for Russian athletes.

“Of course, I am 100 percent against everything that is happening between Russia and Ukraine now. It is completely inconceivable. But then I also do not think that the fact that they have a Russian passport, means that they should be punished and deprived of the opportunity to do their job. In a way, I think that is a bit unfair too,” Skar told NRK

For the time being, no further changes in Russian participation have been reported. FasterSkier will continue to follow this story as it evolves over the next few days. World Cup classic sprint races are currently scheduled in Drammen Thursday, with the women’s 30 k mass start classic in Oslo happening Saturday March 5th, followed by the men’s 50 k on Sunday. 

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