Norwegian sports playing ifs with COVID

Is predictability possible?

Norwegian sports and COVID

Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix
Norwegian Minister of Culture Abid Raja is the man in the middle trying to decide when sports can resume. On March 23, he announced “with reservation” that the Eliteserien and Toppserien soccer leagues can begin practice matches in mid-April with the goal of starting the seasons the second weekend in May, dependent on the rate of infection in the country.

MICHAEL KLEINER
The Norwegian American

Yes, things change constantly with Norwegian sports and COVID-19. After I submitted the original article on March 24, news broke the same day. Minister of Culture Abid Raja announced that practice matches for Eliteserien and Toppserien can begin in mid-April with a season start date the second weekend in May. However, Raja made the announcement “with reservation.” It will still depend on the rate of infection in the country. The two leagues must follow the stringent infection control protocols.

“What is important now is that we create predictability for top sports,” Raja told VG. “Therefore, we launch the following ambition: We aim for training matches outdoors in sports where the majority of athletes play professionally, either full time or part time, at the end of week 15” (April 17 or 18 after April 12 assessment).”

Predictability? He already said there are “ifs.”

According to VG, “the (practice) matches must be regional, though it’s possible for the teams to play in neighboring counties.”

NTB obtained a letter from Raja stating, “the infection situation and the experiences from the training matches will be considered when the final decision on opening for series games is made.”

Directorate supports Raja if …
On March 25, The Norwegian Directorate of Health announced support of Raja’s recommendation, though it “emphasizes that the infection situation will be crucial.” On March 31, the National Football Federation announced its own schedule, though similar, to Raja. Eliteserien will begin weekend May 8–9, Toppserien weekend of May 22–23. if …

Eliteserien had delayed the start from April 5 to May 1 (five rounds) on March 15, after two positive cases at Vålerenga and 13 at Stabæk. Further, two Stabæk players, Sammy Skytte and Tortol Lumanza-Lembi have apologized for breaking quarantine protocols by going to a party on March 12. Then, on March 22, it was reported no members of the Vålerenga men’s soccer team tested positive for the coronavirus, allowing them to resume practice. The previous tests at Vålerenga cost goalie Kristoffer Klaesson a spot on the Norway national team. Mjøndalen reported 10 positives on March 23.

Country broken into infection zones
The country has been separated into zones depending on the rate of infection, with “most stringent measures.” Practice is forbidden in Viken, Vestfold, Haugalandet, and Bodø. In Eliteserien this affects Strømsgodset, Mjøndalen, Stabæk, Sarpsborg, Lillestrøm, Haugesund, and Sandefjord—seven of 16 teams—but not the Oslo clubs. Make it eight teams. On March 19, Greenlands shut down, which affected Odd. In Toppserien, which has four rounds effected, Lillestrøm, Kolbotn, Stabæk, and Avaldsnes—four of 10 teams—fall under the practice restriction.

Meanwhile, defending Eliteserien champion Bodø/Glimt is drawing ire for training in Spain.

Indoor sports
On March 25, The National Sports Federation asked Raja for a plan on restarting indoor sports. The Norway national hockey team needs to train for the May World Cup, and the national men’s and women’s handball teams have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in July.

In an email to NTB, Raja wrote, “I understand well that the federation wants indoor sports to be included. However, we are in a challenging and unstable infection situation, and there was clear advice from the health authorities to signal a possible opening for outdoor sports first. If we experience a strong reduction in infection in the period up to week 15 (April 12), we may be able to open up for more groups.”

NIF pledged to work with Raja to “clarify which infection control measures will be necessary to maintain activity for our top athletes, even during periods of high infection pressure.”

Holmenkollen
Holmenkollen—which took place without fans last year—and the four venue Raw Air Ski Jumping competition in Norway were canceled. The Norwegian Ski Association canceled Norwegian championships in cross-country skiing and Nordic Combined at Granåsen in Trondheim; Alpine in Oppdal, and freestyle in Trysil.

Handball
Also, on March 22, the handball federation announced plans—of course, preliminary—to complete the seasons. REMA-1000 women’s league hasn’t played since Jan. 14; the men, Dec. 22, though part of the pause for the men was due to the world championships in Cairo. On March 17, they said resuming the seasons would be delayed to at least April 14. The women’s season started Aug. 29, and for the men, Aug. 26.

Half the men’s schedule has been played. Perennial champion Elverum, with a four-point lead over Arendal, has been declared the champion. “No team is relegated directly from the REMA 1000 league as long as they qualify for qualification. The federal board will reconsider promotion and relegation if qualifying games are not feasible,” it was stated on the handball.no website. Kristiansand will be promoted from 1st Division to REMA-1000, giving the top men’s league 14 clubs in 2021–2022. Qualification relegation/promotion games match the teams in 11th, 12th, and 13th places in REMA 1000 against the second, third and fourth places in the 1st Division. The optimistic date to begin those playoffs is May 12.

The women’s games played range from nine (Aker) to 12 games (Tertnes and Oppsal). Twelve is half the schedule. The handball federation’s federal board intends to play the women’s games (nine) needed for all to reach the halfway point, “as soon as possible after the authorities have opened up for top sports again, and after the teams have had a proper and normal training period. The goal is to complete the playoffs and qualifiers (both sexes),” it says on the website.

The government’s next assessment is April 12 so forget the April 14 resumption. If the “authorities” don’t give the go-ahead, “the federal board will make a new assessment of the situation.” May 9 is now the target start date. Teams within zone 5A can start playing each other April 25, should the “authorities” give the thumbs up.

Once every team reaches the halfway point in games played, the team in first will be declared champion. The same rules about relegation for the men apply to the women. May 15 is the tentative date for the Norwegian Championship between Kristiansand and Sola.

Here’s an idea. Currently, perennial contenders Storhamar (22 pts) and Vipers Kristiansand (20) are 1-2, separated by two points. Storhamar needs one game to reach the halfway mark, Vipers two. Both are undefeated. Third-place Sola (16 points) needs two games, but the best they can do is tie Kristiansand—if the Vipers lose two games. That’s highly unlikely, though one match should be against Storhamar. Except for the teams at the bottom fighting relegation, none of the other teams really matter. Have Storhamar play Kristiansand best of three or two game aggregate.

Last year, the playoffs were not held due to COVID-19.

“We are in a time where well over a third of all top handball clubs cannot even train together,” said handball president Kåre Geir Lio to NTB. “We do not know when the guidelines will allow reopening. Teams must have a training period before matches begin. We assume that this period must be about four weeks for each team.

“Based on the feedback we have received after a good dialogue with all clubs and their organizations, Norwegian Top Handball, the federal board is unanimous that it is not right to put an end to the season here and now. If the halls reopen during April, and the authorities allow matches to be played, it will be possible to play a lot of good top handball before the summer holiday.”

Hockey
On March 17, Fjordkraft Ice Hockey, which paused Jan. 9 after an outbreak among the teams, ended the season, the second straight year without playoffs. Frisk Asker were declared the champions based on winning percentage of possible points they could have collected. Frisk Asker had a game in hand over Storhamar, which was in first place by one point. The ice hockey World Cup is scheduled to start May 21, so it was imperative the hockey season conclude by the end of April. The new, stricter measures in areas of several clubs made this impossible.

“We have tried for a very long time in many ways to keep it going both in terms of training and games,” said Assistant General Secretary Kristoffer Holm to NTB. “Now we are in overtime of the overtime when it comes to the number of game dates to get something done that is close to being sportingly responsible and physically sound. It’s ambivalent. It is not the case that we feel any relief for having taken it.”

Wrestling
March 18: National wrestling team coaches Fritz Aanes and Eren Gjægtvik, wrestlers Felix Baldauf and Oskar Marvik, and physiotherapist Jakob Larsen Jørgenvåg tested positive for the coronavirus in Budapest, Hungary, ahead of the Olympic qualifying event.

Basketball
March 17: Norwegian professional men’s and women’s basketball leagues (BLNO) suspended their seasons. “We do this with a heavy heart, but we must show social responsibility and do what is right in this demanding situation,” said basketball President Jan Hendrik Parmann on NTB. Gimle was declared men’s champion, but the women’s teams have not played enough games, so a decision is pending.

This article originally appeared in the April 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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