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Full battle in Finland: No one has signed a contract with the Ski Association

Three weeks before the opening of the World Cup on home soil, none of the Finnish national team athletes can be part in Ruka, Finland. Understand the dilemma. 

Photo: Petter Arvidson/Bildbyrån

Iivo Niskanen (FIN)

The chaos surrounding national team contracts is not unique to the Norwegian Ski Association. Just weeks before the World Cup opening in Ruka, there is also an open dispute in Finland as none of the Finnish national team athletes have signed a contract with the Finnish Ski Association, and in principle, cannot participate in the World Cup opening on home soil in Ruka from November 24 to 26. 

While the conflict between Johannes Høsflot Klæbo and the Norwegian Ski Association has dominated the headlines in Norway this fall, a far more extensive conflict has hit Finnish cross-country skiing. Almost none of the skiers on the Finnish national team have even seen the draft national team contract for the coming winter, much less familiarizing themselves with the details that stand in the way of an agreement. 

But the athletes stand together. 

“I have no idea what parts of the contract are being negotiated at the moment,” one of the athletes told the Finnish newspaper Sanoma

“Everyone is looking to protect their interests. That’s how it works,” says another. 

One of the athletes interviewed by the newspaper suggests that the financial crisis in the Finnish Ski Association is the reason why the process still needs to be completed. 

Iivo Niskanen, Ristomatti Hakola, Niko Anttola, and Perttu Hyvärinen after winning the silver medal in the relay at the World Championships in Planica. None of them have a contract with the national team for next season. Photo: Petter Arvidson/BILDBYRÅN

World Cup without Finland?

Usually, most of the contracts should have been signed long before the summer vacation. This year, hardly any are in place, just three weeks before the World Cup opens on home soil in Ruka from November 24 to 26. Just like in Norway, Finnish skiers must have such an agreement in place before they can be selected for World Cup races. 

Finnish Ski Association President Ismo Hämäläinen admits that it is getting urgent to get the contracts in place but downplays the crisis aspect. 

“It’s true that we are behind schedule. We should have got this done in May. There are, of course, differences of opinion on some points, but nothing major,” Hämäläinen tells Sanoma.

Growing unrest

This is not the first time the Finnish Ski Association and the athletes have disagreed. Last year, the athletes protested when the association added a clause to the contract where they would pay a fine of 500,000 euros if an athlete was caught doping. 

Neither Iivo Niskanen, Joni Mäki, Krista Pärmäkoski, nor Kerttu Niskanen signed the contract until November last year. 

This year, Iivo Niskanen has chosen to leave the national team and go private. The main reason is that Niskanen is dissatisfied with the sporting program from the association, the lack of altitude camps and follow-up. 

According to the Finnish newspaper, the main reason for the massive resistance among the athletes this year is dissatisfaction with fundamental issues such as marketing rights and sponsorship agreements. 

This type of conflict has arisen from time to time in the past. 

For example, there has been a dispute over Iivo Niskanen’s private promotion of energy drinks. Last spring, there was trouble when Perttu Hyvärinen went to a TV interview with logos for his private sponsor during the World Championships in Planica. 

The article continues below.

Iivo Niskanen
Iivo Niskanen has been in conflict with the Finnish Ski Association several times. This year, he is outside the national team. Photo: Modica/NordicFocus.

Not worried

Skiing Association President Hämäläinen tells Sanoma that he expects the skiers’ contracts to be finalized shortly. He claims there is no danger of the negotiations breaking down now and causing problems just before the opening of the World Cup. 

“I doubt that will happen under any circumstances. When it comes to cross-country skiing, I expect that we will have this ready shortly,” says Hämäläinen, and continues:

“The wording has been adjusted. The athlete contract is nothing more than a document to ensure we all have a common understanding.” 

But from what the newspaper has learned, there is little to suggest that the contract process is anything like what the association is suggesting.  

Not unique

In Norway, there has been an extensive dispute over national team contracts for a long time. Klæbo and the Norwegian Ski Association have not agreed on a representation agreement for the coming season, and just before the weekend, 23-year-old top alpine skier Lucas Braathen chose to retire rather than sign a contract with the association. 

Swedish cross-country skiing has not been scandal-free either. Ahead of last year’s season, three of Sweden’s biggest skiing stars opted out of the national team. 

Several Swedish men’s national team skiers, including Calle Halfvarsson and Jens Burman, also considered doing the same. However, they ended up staying in the national team. This season, they are all back in the national team. 

After extensive negotiations with the national team management since last summer, they have now come up with contract changes that give the skiers more freedom to plan their training and more focus on altitude training. 

Frida and Maja
Frida Karlsson and Maja Dahlqvist are now back in the Swedish national team.

Are you interested in traditional cross-country skiing? Click HERE and read more.

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