Legal whirlwind after alleged racist comments by Drammen soccer coach
Strømsgodset coach Henrik Pedersen results in firing after being retained
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
There is a tourist attraction near Drammen, Norway: Spiralen, with a helix-shaped, winding road through a tunnel bored into a mountain, rising with each turn until you get to the top.
And like Spiralen, the stretch of April 2 – 12 was a spinning, changing controversy around Drammen’s soccer club, Strømsgodset. It began April 2, when several media reports disclosed that soccer coach Henrik Pedersen was accused of making racist comments toward “individuals in the club and internal investigations were ongoing.” On April 8, Strømsgodset either fired Pedersen or they came to a mutual agreement or he resigned. This came three days after the club’s board reported the Danish Pedersen would be retained.
In a press release on April 5, Strømsgodset wrote: “Unfortunate episodes have been revealed that the board takes very seriously. This has been addressed and will be dealt with. On the other hand, there are no documented or uncovered conditions that make the board of Strømsgodset Toppfotball find a basis for ending the collaboration with Henrik Pedersen. The board … does not feel that he has shown racist attitudes toward employees in the club. The board … wants to emphasize that there is zero tolerance for racist attitudes in the club.”
They also said the investigation was continuing.
Pedersen, 43, who has categorically denied the allegations, was hired in 2019 and helped the team avert relegation. Last season, it finished 13th with 31 points, but he was given a contract extension through 2023.
In an email to Drammens Tidende and VG, Pedersen wrote: “It is important for me to express my joy that I have been cleared of the serious accusations of racism, made by an employee of the club. I had no doubt that the accusations were unfounded, and that I would be cleared.”
Over the weekend of April 10 – 11, assistant coach Håkon Wibe-Lund and Bjørn Petter Ingebretsen accepted the temporary head coaching positions. They face a lot of adversity dealing with the Pedersen issue alone. The current coronavirus delayed start to the season is May 8 – 9. The week of April 12 the government approved the beginning of training. Odd, Sandefjord and Bodø/Glint were given clearance on April 9. The Viken clubs Stabæk, Lillestrøm, Mjøndalen and Strømsgodset were granted a delay for the start of the season to May 15 – 16.
There are seven Black players on the team: rookie goalie Daniel Skretteberg, 18, (Norway); defender Duplex Tchamba, 22, (Cameroon); defender Prosper Mendy, 24, (France); midfielder Ipalibo Jack, 23, (Nigeria), who is signed through 2023; rookie forward Imoh Fred Friday, 25, (Nigeria); forward Moses Mawa, 24, (Norway), who had six goals in 30 games last year, and forward Mustapha Fofana, 19, (Norway).
Tchamba returned to Strømsgodset on August 6, 2020. On the club website he said: “It is a fantastic club with a skilled coach, good support staff, and great supporters … It is good to play under a coach who understands me both as a player and as a person.”
An incident can change opinions. Boy, did things change after the club announced Pedersen was staying.
On April 6, it was revealed seven anonymous players contacted NISO, a union that represents Norwegian athletes at home and abroad, and whose pet project is “Give Racism a Red Card,” with the racism charges.
“Things went too fast,” said NISO Communications Manager Thomas Kristensen to NTB. “The process was probably not as thorough as a case with these kind of allegations should have been.”
Club Board Chair Ivar Strømsjordet told TV2 the club was aware NISO had been contacted—before Strømsgodset announced the retaining of Pedersen. “There was no specific content in those messages.”
Strømsjordet confirmed to Discovery, who first broke the story, “We were made aware of allegations of derogatory language Pedersen may have used against the person who notified the club management. No one could confirm these expressions …”
“Expressions such as ‘African boy’ and ‘African time’ about African players may have been used on the training field. It is first and foremost the expressions that alerted us to the seriousness.”
On April 7, daylong meetings were held with players and coaches. Because of the pandemic, they had to meet in small groups. Media reports claimed players were not satisfied with the meeting and later, TV2 reported that the players wanted Pedersen and Strømsjordet gone.
“We are not satisfied with the information management has given regarding the process,” player resentative Jonathan Parr told Nettavisen after the meetings. “We need some time to formulate ourselves. We have informed the club and the board that we feel the need to make a statement. They agree with that. Everyone agrees, that with the case still proceeding, it is right to come up with it later.”
As to TV2’s report, the players wanted Pedersen and Strømsjordet removed, Parr said, “I can deny that. We have not come up with any requirements as a player group. We have looked at the process and believe it could have been better in many ways. Then we will come back to it later. The mood is good, and we are united. We talked well together and discussed the case. We try to focus on what we can do something about, namely training.”
As of April 15, no release from the players had been issued.
On April 9, NTB first reported that, Strømsgodset decided to “get rid of Pedersen.” Later, on the team’s Facebook page, they posted, “Strømsgodset Toppfotball and coach Henrik Pedersen have today agreed to end his employment. The parties have a common desire to create peace around the club.”
“This was not an exit I wanted,” said Pedersen. “I strongly disagree and criticize both the allegations and the process that has been carried out. It feels sad and meaningless to leave Strømsgodset and the ‘boys’ in this way. But as this case has now gotten out of control, and especially out of consideration for everyone who loves Strømsgodset, I had no choice but to agree with this solution.”
In another statement, the club said, “In connection with Henrik Pedersen’s resignation … general manager Dag Lindseth Andersen wishes to emphasize that the notification case against Pedersen will go ahead and has not been completed. Strømsgodset has engaged external legal assistance for further handling of the case.”
Eirik Monsen, a lawyer with NISO, represented the first accuser. “My client feels the most important thing is that the notification of warning in this case is handled in a thorough manner and that he is believed,” Monsen told Discovery, who initially broke the case. “The case has escalated violently, but it has in no way been my client’s desire to put pressure on either coach or club.”
On the April 12, Strømsjordet admitted that the procedures for warnings need to be improved. There are also two new coaches. “Everyone understands that this is an extremely demanding situation,” said Wibe-Lund, according to VG. “On a personal level, it has been tough. Honesty is the starting point for us. There is authenticity and being brave in this process. Then, there are many different tools that can be used. This is where I think Bjørn Petter is the best man I know.”
On April 14, Drammens Tidende reported the Norwegian Football Federation was “considering investigating Strømsgodset’s handling of the case.”
This article originally appeared in the April 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.