COVID-19 takes its toll on sports

Teams lose money; coaches lose jobs; players and personnel laid off; Olympic dreams dashed

COVID-19 - Sports

Photo: Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix
New Vålerenga soccer coach Dag-Eilev Akerhaugen Fagermo on an empty field. The club has already lost an estimated NOK 4 million due to the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the season, forcing the club to lay off administrative personnel and some players. Some restrictions have been relaxed allowing teams to practice in small groups with social distancing, no physical contact, heading or touching the ball.

JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
Oslo

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has caused the most significant disruption to the worldwide sports calendar since World War II. Across the globe, sports events have been canceled or postponed, seasons disrupted.

The International Olympic Committee and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have postponed the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until 2021, while the EURO 2020 soccer championship that was supposed to take place this summer is postponed until 2021. The 2020 Wimbledon tennis championships have been canceled for the first time since the Second World War, and there are rumors about a cancelation of the Tour de France bicycle race.

Out of all the unimportant things in the world, sports might be the most important. In that regard, 2020 isn’t looking good.

In Norway, like in most of the world, most, if not all, sporting events are canceled until further notice, including Eliteserien men’s and Toppserien women’s soccer. That was a necessary decision that will have major financial repercussions for organizations affected.

Not only are athletes lacking proper training facilities, professional Norwegian sports organizations are often walking a financial tightrope to begin with, being held alive by government funding, volunteer work, and local sponsors. Loss of substantial income from ticket sales and sponsorship deals might be a death sentence for many organizations.

Volleyball - Norway - COVID-19

Photo: Norwegian Volleyball Association / NTB scanpix
Beach volleyball players Anders Mol (left) and Christian Sørum are the top-ranked men’s duo in the world. They will be unable to defend the title due to the postponement of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Big stars like beach volleyball players Anders Mol and Christian Sørum, or runners Karsten Warholm and Jakob Ingebrigtsen will do fine. They have more than enough backup funds. But lesser known athletes with less lucrative sponsorship deals, like rower Olaf Tufte or wrestler Stig Andre Berge, who have both spent the last few years training toward their last Olympic Games, are now considering retirement if their sponsor deals aren’t renewed another year.

In the short time after the viral outbreak in March, we’ve already seen many well-known sporting organizations begin to stumble. The economic losses are often massive and go far beyond the loss of potential ticket sales. Many organizations have already put coaches, employees, and players on unpaid leave.

Storhamar, one of the top Norwegian Ice Hockey teams, had to fire their two head coaches, Miika Elomo and Petteri Nummelin, from their contracts due to the playoffs being canceled. The club lost an estimated NOK 5-6 million due to the cancellation, an amount that might turn out to be critical to the club’s existence. The board is currently trying to put together a new organization based on a post-corona reality. If this is happening to a team that was second in the league standings, what might it be like for teams below them?

An additional, and in some ways even more important, concern is that children’s sports and activities not on an elite level might struggle with funding as a result of the outbreak. If the teams on the elite level earn less, even less will trickle down to other parts of the organizations.

Olympics - Norway - COVID-19

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix
At the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016, Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tufte rowed double sculls and reached the semifinals. They don’t have the lucrative endorsement deals as other star athletes and face retirement if their deals are not renewed after the postponement of this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

However, the government, the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Confederation of Sports (NIF) are doing what they can to help. NIF have asked every Norwegian sports organization to fill out a standardized form in order to create an overview of the economic and financial repercussions caused by the coronavirus.

“A registration like this is necessary to create measures that will make sure that the organizations are equipped to create physical activity and joy for people when the corona crisis is over,” Karen Kvalevåg, Secretary General of NIF stated on its website.

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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