Identities, Ethnicities, Histories and Sports in Northern Norway

Daniel Svensson
Division of Science, Technology and Society, Chalmers University of Technology
Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Helge Chr. Pedersen & Eivind Å. Skille (red)
Utafor sporet? Idrett, identiteter og regionalisme i nord [Off the beaten track: Sports, identity and regionalism in the north]
327 sidor, hft.
Vallset: Oplandske Bokforlag 2016 (Vardeserien)
ISBN 978-82-7518-244-7
That sport is important for regional and local identity (and vice versa) is quite clear for anyone who has noticed the active role played by FC Barcelona in the Catalonian struggle for independence, or seen the flags of Liverpool FC supporters stating “we’re not English, we’re Scouse”. But how do regionalism, identity, ethnicity and sport relate? More research on this topic is well needed, and now there is a volume on precisely those issues, with focus on northern Norway.

This edited volume consists of five sections, some 15 chapters and 327 pages. In terms of methodology, study objects and academic discipline of the authors, the anthology is rather eclectic. But the individual contributions are kept together by the general theme of regionalism and sport in northern Norway, and by an excellent final chapter (Hjelseth).

In the introduction, the editors outline their aim; to contribute to a deeper understanding of the role of sport in northern Norway, in relation to regional identity and ethnicity. Editors Pedersen and Skille argue that the different sport organizations and clubs in northern Norway have had ambiguous, yet important, relations to regional identity. They have worked to be incorporated and accepted in the national sport community, but they have also played important roles in the construction of distinct northern identities (p. 12-13).

The first section of the book sets the theoretical framework, with chapters on sport (Pedersen & Skille), regionalism (Tjelmeland) and identity/ethnicity (Pedersen). For a broader analysis of regional identity and sport, I find two concepts used by Tjelmeland (p. 27 et passim) very fruitful. Integrational regionalism (integrasjonsregionalisme) is characterized by an effort to modernize and integrate regional activities (in this case sports) into the national culture and organizational structure. Resistance regionalism (motstandsregionalisme) strives to protect traditional lifestyle and identity from top-down modernization. In northern Norway, the dominant perspective was that integrational regionalism seemed to have been drawing towards assimilation rather than integration, at least until the late 1960s, when ethno-political identity building gained ground (Pedersen, p. 54).

Sport and regional identity is in focus in the second section of the book. Though not the most traditional of sports in the area, football was a powerful force in northern Norwegian identity building (Goksøyr). It is clear that uses of historical accounts, whether anchored in real events or not, have been vital in that process (W. Karlsen). Identities tied to specific clubs such as Tromsø IL (Ekeland & Moldenæs) or to class (Aas) have co-existed with and co-constructed the broader regional identity.

Section three turns the attention towards the politics and organization of sport. The state politics regarding Sami sport differ between Norway and Sweden (Fahlén & Skille), in ways that may affect identification and sportification. While Sami sport is partly organized as a separate entity with some traditional sports not found in the national sport organizations (such as reindeer racing, analyzed by Hætta in this volume), there are among the young only small differences in participation in sports (Rafoss & Hines). Another political dimension of sport in northern Norway is the exchange with the Soviet Union, which was driven by local and regional representatives and viewed with suspicion from the national organizations (Bones & Niemi).

The fourth section focuses on representations of athletes and leaders from northern Norway. Their talent and importance was not fully acknowledged and their identity and ethnicity were used to explain both success and failure (Pedersen, p. 267). Even in accounts of non-sportified skiing in polar expeditions it was important with ethnicity as an explanatory tool, while also appropriating impressive performances into the national Norwegian identity (S. Karlsen). Another important layer of identity is gender, which is given more attention in the chapter about the important sport leader Olga Olaussen, who skillfully navigated the male-dominated sport culture of northern Norway (Hovden). Hovdens’s chapter adds a well-needed gender perspective, which could have been more developed in other chapters as well.

Resistance regionalism (motstandsregionalisme) strives to protect traditional lifestyle and identity from top-down modernization.

The fifth and final section is devoted to a summarizing analysis by Arve Hjelseth. Given the richness of perspectives, methods, research subjects and arguments presented in this volume, Hjelseth’s task is far from easy, but he manages to summarize the preceding chapters clearly while also analyzing it in a theoretical framework which I find really useful.

After reading this collection of different approaches to sport, regional identity and ethnicity, it seems clear that northern Norway has been understood as a periphery in relation to national sport organizations. It is the response to this peripheral identity that has varied between different sports, organizations and geographical areas, and also shifted over time. It would have been interesting with more comparisons to other regions similar to northern Norway. How much of the identities and feelings of not being at home in the national narrative and organization is unique for northern Norway, and how much is common for regional and local peripheries (for example in similar regions in Sweden and Finland)? The fact that northern Norway was left out of certain national sports communities until the 1970s sets it apart from corresponding areas in Sweden, which have been included in the national organizations much longer. Even so, similar identities connected to sport can be found in several Swedish regions, including the northernmost ones.

I realize that this book is not about identity building and sport in general, but a few more comparisons would have deepened the reader’s understanding of how northern Norway stands out or relate to other areas. This concern is raised also by Hjelseth in his final chapter. He then uses sportification theory to analyze the regionalism and identity building in sports (Hjelseth, p. 309-310). Given that the rationalization, equalization and organization that is the core of sportification (e.g. Guttmann 1978, Elias 1986, Yttergren 1996, 2015, Goksoyr 1988, Slagstad 2008) is present in almost all of the examples given in the individual chapters, I would argue that the history of sport in northern Norway is in many ways a battle about sportification. Through conscious efforts from Norwegian sport organizations and state officials, as well as efforts from regional, northern organizations, clubs and others have tried to get accepted into the national sport community by adapting to general ideas about regimentation, organization and competition. This type of sportification goes well with Tjelmeland’s integrational regionalism.

On the other hand, resistance regionalism goes against the process of sportification, as it strives to maintain uniqueness rather than to conform to national and international organization and regimentation. As Hjelseth (p. 322) points out, this could be interesting in relation to lifestyle sports, outdoor life and other sport-like activities relating to ethnicity and identity and not easily transformed by sportification.

I think this volume could have been even more interesting if such a perspective had been more present throughout the analysis. By using a common theoretical framework, such as sportification (Hjelseth) and the different types of regionalism (Tjelmeland), the connection between the different chapters and their case studies could have been stronger, which would have strengthened the overall analysis. That being said, this is after all a book about northern Norway, a diverse region with a multitude of identities, sports, ethnicities and histories. And this volume, with its eclectic approach, succeeds in showing precisely the complex and shifting co-construction of sport, ethnicity and identity in the area.

Copyright © Daniel Svensson 2017


Elias, Norbert (1986). “The Genesis of Sport as a Sociological Problem”, in Dunning, Eric and Elias, Norbert (eds.), Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 126–149.
Goksoyr, Matti (1988). Sivilisering, modernisering, sportifisering: fruktbare begreper i idrettshistorisk forskning? Oslo.
Guttmann, Allen (1978). From Ritual to Record. The Nature of Modern Sports. New York: Columbia University Press.
Slagstad, Rune (2008). (Sporten): en idéhistorisk studie. Oslo: Pax.
Yttergren, Leif (2015). “The Professionalisation and scientification of athletics training in Sweden 1910-1957: Two examples: Ernie Hjertberg and Gösse Holmer”. Stadion: Internationale Zeitschrift für Geschichte des Sports, vol. 40, no. 1, 2015, pp. 57-71.
Yttergren, Leif (1996). Täflan är lifvet: idrottens organisering och sportifiering i Stockholm 1860-1898. Stockholm: Stockholmia.


Table of Content

l.  lnnledning

Utafor sporet’? Idrett, identiteter og regionalisme i nord
Helge Chr.Pedersen og Eivind Å. Skille
Region og regionalisme i nord
Harald Tjelmeland
Identitet og etnisitet i nord
Helge Chr. Pedersen


2. Idrett og region

Utenforland? Periferier, identiteter, og fotball i nord
Matti Goksøyr
Å eg minnest so vel – bruk av idrettsopplevelser i regional identitetsbygging
Wilhelm Karlsen
TIL-skueren: supporter, tilhenger eller fans?
Christian Ekeland og Turid Moldenæs
Klasseidentitet eller lokalpatriotisme? – arbeidaridrettens seine gjennombrot i Nordland
Steinar Aas


3. Idrettsorganisering og politikk

Samisk idrett og statlig politikk i Sverige og Norge
Josef Fahlén og Eivind Å. Skille
Ung i Finnmark – En studie av bruk av fritidsarenaer og deltakelse i fritidsaktiviteter blant samisk og norsk ungdom
Kolbjørn Rafoss & Kjell Hines
Sameksistens og kappestrid: Med idretten gjennom jernteppet
Stian Banes og Einar Niemi
Reinkappkjøring i 60 år (1954-2013)
Odd Mathis Hætta


4. ldrett og fortelling

«Per Olsen – den nye Arvo Viitanen». Framstillingen av Finnmarks forste skistjerne i nasjonal og regional presse i 1950-åra
Helge Chr. Pedersen
«[ …] så skrev jeg til et par velkjente menn i Finnmark med fore­ spørsel om man kunne skaffe meg to fjellapper som var villige til å folge med» – Om polarekspedisjoner, skiløping og etnisitet
Silje Solheim Karlsen
Når kvinner gjør forskjell – Et portrett av en nestor i nord-norsk idrett: Olga Olaussen
Jorid Hovden5. Finnes idrett inord?
Finnes idrett i nord? En metaanalyse
Arve Hjelseth
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