A popular sport is rapidly turning into a local pastime.
The first stage of the Ski World Cup of the 2023/24 season starts in a few days. There is no widespread excitement around this event; it is already easy to guess which country will dominate the ski track. And this predictability is reflected in interest in competitions. Without Russia, skiing is gradually dying.
Now this fact is recognized even in Norway.
On November 24, the Cross-Country World Cup starts in Ruka, Finland. There are no Russian stages in the 2023/24 season, as well as the participation of our athletes themselves. The absence of Russians in different sports is tolerated differently: in some places the organizers, rivals and fans do not notice the loss, but in others, as in bandy, the world championships have to be cancelled. Ski racing has not yet reached the extreme, but the level of competition and interest in competitions is falling at a gigantic speed.
— There were no Russian skiers at the pre-season competitions in Finland, as happened constantly in past years. This is kind of crazy. This sucks! No Bolshunov, Nepryaeva, Terentyev… These guys are fun to watch. We have lost that zest in ski racing, there is no longer that special group of guys who don’t speak English, look reserved, unfriendly and fill that niche in the journalists’ stories. The fact that they are not with us sucks,” American journalist Nathaniel Hertz shared his emotions on the FasterSkier podcast.
Neutral fans of cross-country skiing are unlikely to like what is happening. Russian skiers not only “filled a niche in the stories,” they created real competition for the Norwegians, who, without us, actually turned the World Cup stages into the championship of their country, especially when it comes to men’s competitions. Maybe the Scandinavians themselves like this state of affairs? It turns out that in Norway they are starting to miss the Russians.
“They will suffer as a product”
“They have been practically our only competitors in recent years, so it is clear that competition and ski racing as a product will suffer. Let’s hope they can come back,” said four-time world champion Emil Iversen in an interview with Nettavisen.
The Norwegian champion is not in vain worried about the competition. Its decline is already directly reflected in interest in cross-country skiing. A report by the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) on television broadcasts last season noted a drop in total audiences of 242 million viewers, or 26%. It is clear that this incredible decline is largely due to the absence of Russian television viewers, who showed the highest interest in skiing competitions. But in some other countries important for FIS, such as Sweden or Finland, a decrease in ratings is recorded. And this despite the fact that the total broadcast time increased by 53% in the previous season!
Norwegian athletes (right and center) / Photo: © SOPA Images / Contributor / LightRocket / Gettyimages.ru
By the way, interest in broadcasts of men’s cross-country skiing fell by a catastrophic 39%. So, in general, it’s understandable why Iversen is worried. Other star Norwegian athletes also acknowledge the problems.
“It’s fantastic that we have so many good skiers, but the interest in cross-country skiing at the international level may not be very high,” NRK quoted four-time Olympic champion Therese Johaug at the end of last season.
Why they are not worried about the fate of cross-country skiing in the FIS is a mystery. Of course, in some form, international cross-country skiing competitions will be held in any case – the fate of bandy is unlikely to threaten them. But with current trends, skiing risks turning from a popular winter sport into something more parochial with the corresponding audience, sponsorship and prize money.