Norway, current leaders in the Per Capita Cup, the ranking of the world’s sportiest nations, aren’t top of the table by chance. In the last five years they’ve always finished in the Per Capita Cup’s top five, winning it in 2010 and 2011 and finishing second in 2014.
While past Per Capita winners Jamaica (2008 and 2009), relied on… Usain Bolt and his amazing fellow sprinters alone, Norway holds the record for scoring points in the most sports (26, in 2010) as Per Capita Winners. Only New Zealand (21 sports in 2012) came close, while Slovenia won the 2014 Per Capita Cup by scoring in 15 sports ‘only’.
How can a country with an population of 5,165,802 (according to the 2013 census) manage to do so consistently well in so many different sports?
According to the authors of ‘Nordic Elite Sport – Same Ambitions, Different Tracks’, Svein S. Andersen and Lars Tore Ronglan, you have to look at the structures and methods used by Norwegian elite sport organisation to understand this success.
As an consequence of a poor performances in both the 1984 Summer and Winter Olympic Games, the NIF –Norges Idrettsforbund, the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports - decided to establish a centralised program called Project 88. One of its focus areas was the holistic development of athletes, covering their physiological, intellectual and social abilities. Quality of life was a keyword and elements like privacy, education, recreation, exercise and diet were taken into strong consideration.
In the wake of Project 88, the NIF also established a centralised organisation coordinating elite sport coaching activities, called Olympiatoppen, offering financial support and strengthening the cooperation across different sports.
Financial support comes from sponsors and the Norwegian National Lottery, poor federations receiving more money than federations with commercial associations.
Olympiatoppen serves as a linchpin between different elite sports and federations. It has transformed loose and fragmented networks into a cluster which creates opportunities for exchange of ideas, information and experiences across sports. Olympiatoppen has an informal and knowledge-based working style and decisions are made quickly and implemented fast.
Compared to other Scandinavian countries who aren’t as successful as Norway in the Per Capita Cup, Norway have found a way to coordinate elite sporting performance which isn’t as decentralized and fragmented as Finland
’s, or heavily influenced by the state as Denmark
’s, or more balanced between mass and elite sport like Sweden
Olympiatoppen has played a major role in the sustained success of Norwegian elite sports, and even the larger federations, like the Norwegian Skiing Federation for example, enjoy the benefits of cooperation. It’s no surprise that Winter Sports
have contributed the majority of GSN points won by Norway in the history of the Global and Per Capita Cups.
So long as Norway continue with this holistic view of their athletes’ coaching and with an efficient, centralised elite sports system, it’s no surprise they can lead the Per Capita Cup and
lie in 9th
place overall in the Global Cup, ahead of much larger European countries like Great Britain
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