Norwegian alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal was never one to hold back from expressing opinions about divisive topics and issues over an illustrious ski racing career which spanned 17 seasons and four Olympic Winter Games.
Svindal, 38, who retired in 2019, opined about a wide-range of world sport topics, including the declining interest for Olympic bids among traditional European snow sports countries and how they can once again be enticed. The Norwegian two-time overall World Cup champion chatted with media at this past weekend’s World Cup races in Soelden, Austria. The retired racer was in town promoting his new documentary Aksel, which depicts the many highs and lows, and multiple knee injuries that he suffered throughout his career.
Svindal was asked his thoughts on U.S. ski racing star Mikaela Shiffrin’s comments that she regrets being in a position where she has to choose between answering questions about Beijing human rights violations and focusing on her sport.
“You come up through the system and all of a sudden you are good enough to go to the Olympics and this has been your childhood dream – and then you have the pressure on your shoulders to say no to your childhood dream because someone in Lausanne made the decision to send you to Beijing,” says Svindal, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in 2010 and 2018.
“Especially if you are an 18-year-old, is that fair to that athlete?,” the Norwegian asks rhetorically. “That responsibility has to come from higher up the chain of command.”
With final preparations ongoing for the Winter Olympics in China, now 100 days away, calls for boycotts and animosity persist. Svindal was asked what he believes needs to change in the host city selection process.
“If there are no traditional winter sport countries making democratic decisions that want to host the Olympics – then the problem and debate is so big, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Norway all said no, and then if we point fingers at everyone else, yet we go there and take home a big chunk of the medals and then you go home and wave a finger, this is unfair.
“You don’t go to everyone else’s birthday parties, while you never hold a celebration yourself – that is also unfair.”
In October 2014, Norwegian politicians rejected an Olympic bid from Oslo following reports of “pompous” demands by the IOC to Norwegian bid leaders. Svindal later expressed his disappointment with the unfortunate rift, which he believed could have been avoided.
Regarding that turmoil of seven years ago as well as the current disdain from select countries, critics and politicians about sending athletes to China and disregarding human rights abuses, Svindal questions motives of the Norwegian media.
“In Norway, the journalists say that everything about the Olympics is bad, but then they throw the biggest front page news when Norway does well,” Svindal says. “They need to look at themselves – you can’t sell newspapers saying ‘this is horrible’ but the next time Norway wins all the medals they’re like ‘we’re awesome’.
“I think for some of the countries pointing the fingers is to step up and say ‘we will host, we will be happy to host’ but maybe A, B, and C needs to change for the Olympics to be a good role model,” Svindal said.
The four-time Olympian believes economic solutions can also be sought as leaders and politicians shun perceived exorbitant price tags of hosting the Games.
“If the budget needs to be so high that the debate is if we do this we can’t have a decent retirement home for old people or we can’t put children in schools, no debate, of course you shouldn’t have the Olympics,” Svindal says. “But is that really the question – we’ve come this far in the world and we can’t have a big sporting event and also treat our people well. Shouldn’t it be possible to do both?”
“It’s time for the nations that point the fingers to look at themselves and one, say either Olympics should be put to rest forever, or two, step up and we change this negative trend,” Svindal says.
Future of the Winter Games in Norway, the IOC’s role and beyond
Queried by Around the Rings if he could envision a change in philosophy from Norway and see a future Winter Games bid for 2034, despite some of the problems and perceptions of the past, Svindal is optimistic for change, and not only from his own country.
“It’s hard to say 100-percent, but I think if you get rid of all the noise and present a fair plan about what can be done and show the alternative that if it keeps sliding in a negative direction, we will have no Olympics,” Svindal responds.
“I can’t see why Norwegians shouldn’t be like, to be honest, sports are actually quite good for the world and there are some values that we should be proud of.
“We’re pointing at China because of child labor, but it’s a bigger question if we should then have no Olympics at all, or maybe a nation like Norway shouldn’t send any athletes because it is horrible.
“For the athletes – it’s so unfair – what are you going to say, there’s no right answer,” Svindal continues. “Of course, you don’t support child labor, but does Mikaela need to support child labor, if she shows up at the Olympics.
“Let’s say the Olympics are going to China in 2030, hopefully that’s a different China – we have to have faith in other nations that they are on a route to improve.”
“The IOC is portrayed as these people that don’t have a clue what is going on – they have a good clue because they see what we see and they are working on this.
“We’re now talking about the 2030 and 2034 Olympics and in 2030 is the first time we can see real change. They have to have a good dialogue with all the nations that said no – they need to do this and of course they are doing this.
“What signal would be stronger than if they go back to Norway and there is a nationwide vote and 70-percent say let’s do this.”
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