Why isn't Norway good at hockey?
February 16, 2010 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Hockey question: Why isn't Norway good at hockey?

It's a Scandinavian country, cold, hugely athletic (I learned during the opening ceremony for the Olympics on Friday that they have more medals than any other country in this history of the Winter Olympics) and yet it is a non-factor in hockey. This is strange given that Sweden and Finland are both hockey powerhouses. Why is it that Norway hasn't become one? Why is hockey popular in only half of Scandinavia?
posted by fso to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My out-of-my-ass guess would probably be their emphasis on the individual Nordic sports, like cross-country skiing. It's way more functional, and it's easier to play on your own. Once you've got such a huge tradition, why switch?
posted by Madamina at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2010


Norway is a relatively small country; small countries have more limited resources to pour into sports success. Therefore, concentrate on those sports your countrymen have historically had the most success in.

Seems pretty obvious, no?
posted by dfriedman at 9:29 AM on February 16, 2010


There was an article on NHL.com about this very issue a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the original article is no longer available on NHL.com (or Google Cache or the Wayback Machine), but this Yahoo! Answers question (I know, I know) seems to quote all or part of the article.

The answer seems to be that Sweden built a lot of ice rinks in the 60s and 70s but Norway didn't. Without that infrastructure in place, Norwegian hockey just couldn't take off.

Norway is a relatively small country; small countries have more limited resources to pour into sports success.

Except nearly half of Norwegians participate in individual or team sports and it has natural resource wealth to draw from for things like public stadiums, ice rinks, etc.
posted by jedicus at 9:32 AM on February 16, 2010


Norway's GDP is $450 billion; this makes it a small country in the context of international sports competition. The rate at which its citizens participate in sports doesn't have much bearing on the resources it can throw at sports.
posted by dfriedman at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2010


Just to provide a data point: Slovakia's GDP is approximately $95 billion, and yet they have the eighth-best men's hocky team in the world (as ranked by the IIHF). Norway, on the other hand, is pretty much a non-entity on the international hockey stage.
posted by arco at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2010


Norway's GDP is $450 billion; this makes it a small country in the context of international sports competition. The rate at which its citizens participate in sports doesn't have much bearing on the resources it can throw at sports.

That's about $30B less than Sweden and almost $200B more than Finland, which are both top 5 teams. So, not an answer at all.
posted by Perplexity at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2010


Just to provide a data point: Slovakia's GDP is approximately $95 billion, and yet they have the eighth-best men's hocky team in the world (as ranked by the IIHF). Norway, on the other hand, is pretty much a non-entity on the international hockey stage.

This link indicates that the IIHF World Rankings have Norway 11th (and Slovakia 9th).
posted by Perplexity at 9:47 AM on February 16, 2010


Norway's GDP is $450 billion; this makes it a small country in the context of international sports competition.

Sweden's GDP is about the same, Finland's is about half that. Norway is a very rich country in GDP per capita. They have a lot of resources (specifically, they have oil). Clearly, the issue here is more than just economics.
posted by ssg at 9:52 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Norway's GDP is $450 billion; this makes it a small country in the context of international sports competition. The rate at which its citizens participate in sports doesn't have much bearing on the resources it can throw at sports.

Except its per capita GDP is 3rd in the world. And its GDP is 24th overall. Norway is wealthy on both an absolute and proportional basis, and half of its citizens participate in sports. It would appear that Norway has both the resources and interest to compete at a high level at any sport that its citizens are interested in.

Anyway, regardless of the reasons, your statement is just factually wrong. Norway is 25th in total summer Olympic medals, 1st by far in total winter Olympic medals, and 12th overall. And its summer and total positions are slightly lower than they really are, given that the table lists the Soviet Union, Russia, East Germany, West Germany, and Germany as separate entries. So Norway is not a 'small country in the context of international sports competition' by that reasonable measure.
posted by jedicus at 9:52 AM on February 16, 2010


Hi. Norway here chiming in for an answer. Truth be told, there is no good answer to this question. Some countries focus more on some sports than others. There is a Norwegian hockey league and plenty of ice skating rinks in every town and suburban area, however it isn't nearly as popular as the winter ski sports.

On a side note, you don't see very many norwegian figure skaters bringing home gold either...


If I were to hazard a guess, it would be two fold. First, we are fixated on all things skiing. Second, is a lack of committment or enthuiasm on sports bodies to promote hockey over other sports.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This link indicates that the IIHF World Rankings have Norway 11th (and Slovakia 9th).

True. I must have been looking at the 2008 world rankings. Still, the #8 team in the 2009 rankings was Belarus, with a GDP of just $60.3 billion, which further underscores the point.

My "Norway is a non-entity on the world hockey stage" comment was based on the fact that the 2010 Olympics marks the first time since 1994 that the men's team from that country even qualified for the Games.
posted by arco at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2010


Norway's GDP is $450 billion; this makes it a small country in the context of international sports competition. The rate at which its citizens participate in sports doesn't have much bearing on the resources it can throw at sports.

It determines the pool of competitors you're drawing from, and the political will to spend the money on particular sports. There's a bunch of factors other than straight GDP that have positive correlation with Winter Olympics medal tallies.

The Soviet, Scandinavia, and Germanic dummy variables are also highly significant, with these countries winning 10 more medals than would otherwise be justified by their economic and demographic characteristics.
posted by zamboni at 9:55 AM on February 16, 2010


I think the answer to this is to ask why Canada likes curling or why the US doesn't go for soccer. Who knows? Sport is a matter of taste, and there isn't always any accounting for it.
posted by valkyryn at 9:59 AM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


There is also a pretty substantial drop off in quality once you get past the top five international programs in hockey (in no particular order being: Russia, Canada, Sweden, United States, and the Czech Republic), so being in the top 10 or 15 isn't really a great achievement when it still means you will probably lose 7-1 when you play one of the more established teams.

As others have said, its mainly an intangible, the Norwegians are skiers not skaters, as for why, who can say.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:33 AM on February 16, 2010


I'm Norwegian. When I grew up (80ies) in one of the largest cities, hockey wasn't much cool. Neither were there many rinks around. The whole thing was, and is, kind of daft and douchy as far as I can/could tell. Maybe we played a few rounds when a lake froze, but that was it.

Running, gymnastics, ball sports (soccer, handball etc), skiing, downhill, things like that was what most people did, I think

I think even golf was cooler than hockey, but that could be just my area (lots of courses)
posted by gmm at 12:56 PM on February 16, 2010


Norwegians, come back a moment: were you all busy playing bandy? (seriously; this was a focal point in a Norwegian novel that treated it as an everyday thing, and it sounded awesome.)

Bandy is a team winter sport played on ice, in which skaters use sticks to direct a ball into the opposing team's goal. The rules of the game have many similarities to those of association football: the game is played on a rectangle of ice the same size as a soccer field. Each team has eleven players, one of whom is a goalkeeper.
posted by whatzit at 2:16 PM on February 16, 2010


Except its per capita GDP is 3rd in the world. And its GDP is 24th overall. Norway is wealthy on both an absolute and proportional basis, and half of its citizens participate in sports. It would appear that Norway has both the resources and interest to compete at a high level at any sport that its citizens are interested in.

It is perhaps the last phrase that is telling here, there is a lot of evidence that countries focus on sports where there is a historic cultural investment, for example, cricket is dominated by ex-British empire nations, Rugby at the highest level by a fairly fixed group of nations, etc. It could be argued this links into these countries having the historical infrastructure but also that this will extend into the cultural side of things, people will tend to take up these sports preferentially as they are more mainstream, may offer opportunities for enrichment, fame or status for the practitioner or at the lower level greater social acceptability. Once a country achieves success in a sport it can lead to other individuals going into the sport and the attraction of a fan base, as for example with the javelin in Finland following success of athletes at the international level.

So why isn't Norway good at Ice Hockey? People have highlighted that Norway is fairly wealthy and could afford to support a team and have sufficient people to support a team. One variable I am unsure of: how strong is Ice Hockey as a sport at the domestic level within Norway? Is there a cultural imperative favouring other sports, snow and ice based, or otherwise, including soccer for example?

Regarding population I would theorise as to whether there is a sporting equivalent of comparative economics at work as regards, basically, whether Norway and its population make a collective cultural decision that there resources are best spent elsewhere (not just money but time, and the return in terms of nationalprestige, attendance at local games, etc). I would not suggest this is a direct policy initiative but that Norwegians collectively, influenced by their history; culture, etc do not have a sufficient interest or place a significant emphasis on success in Ice Hockey such that they produce a world class national team. The same question can easily be applied to ask why China, with so many people or the US, with so much money has not won the World Cup. The answer at the primary level is clearly not resources.
posted by biffa at 5:28 AM on February 17, 2010


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