Norwegian college athletes face choice
Organizations help some take advantage of scholarship opportunities overseas
Jo Christian Weldingh
Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the United States, and at the same by far the most popular sport in Norway. There is, however, little or no possibility to combine higher education with high-level soccer in Norway, and at some point most promising players will have to choose between a university degree and continuing with sports on the highest level. As there are no scholarship opportunities in Norway, more and more young athletes travel to the United States to attend university on a sports scholarship.
A college scholarship in the United States is especially attractive for female Norwegian soccer players, as very few will have the possibility to make money from playing soccer in Norway. This forces them to leave the sport behind to pursue an education and paid work, which in turn leaves women’s soccer in Norway at a very weak position both nationally and internationally. In a television interview on Nov. 2, Kristine Leine, nursing student and soccer player on the Norwegian team Røa, talked about how hard it is to combine sports and education. She said having to study full time and play soccer at a high level affected her performance on the field and in the classroom. She also announced that she is giving up on her education to keep playing soccer, even though, financially speaking, it is the less “safe” choice.
The issue that Leine describes is a well-known problem in Norwegian women’s soccer. A report from October this year, made by a committee led by the president of the Norwegian Soccer Association, Karen Espelund, shows that the average age of female soccer players in Norway has been the same since the 1980s, because these players are forced to go to university and get jobs, and therefore leave their teams and the sport. The report also states that the performance level in Norwegian women’s soccer is moving in the wrong direction. Norway is losing its position as one of the best teams internationally, moving down the FIFA ranking, and the top Norwegian teams are losing points in Europe’s Champions League.
College sports are a much bigger deal in the United States than they could ever be in Norway. In Norway, there is little or no tradition for college sports, and most sports clubs associated with the universities are more or less amateur driven. Therefore, the main reason for any Norwegian student athlete, male or female, to choose going to college or university in the United States on a sports scholarship is simply not to have to choose between sports and education. Very few of Norway’s top athletes are doing the two at the same time, due to the difficulty of succeeding in both. There are no existing opportunities for Norwegian soccer players—unless they choose to go to school overseas.
There are several organizations that help young Scandinavian athletes obtain scholarships at U.S. colleges and universities. This opportunity is of course not limited to soccer, but is also popular with other sports, such as golf, swimming, and the many different types of winter sports. The organization College Scholarships USA claims to have helped more than 2,000 student athletes from more than 30 countries get a college scholarship in the United States. A quick glance at the organization’s web page shows that most of the Norwegian student athletes who attend are soccer players, followed by golfers. For a Norwegian student athlete, a college scholarship is a unique and a very different way of getting an education while at the same evolving and excelling in their sport.
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 November 16, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.