Devotion turning into disapproval as Estonians desert Nordic skiers

Andrus Veerpalu in Torino in 2006.
Andrus Veerpalu in Torino in 2006. Source: Scanpix/Eesti Meedia/Raigo Pajula

Skiers Karel Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu's confession to their coach that they have been doping, ahead of any official investigation or charges on the part of Estonian sports associations or authorities, has already triggered a reaction in proportion to Estonians' previous devotion to their skiers. Their sponsors are likely to follow suit.

ERR's Estonian-language news reported on Friday morning that should Nordic skiers Karel Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu be officially charged in the course of the currently unfolding doping scandal, sponsors Merko Ehitus and Kapitel Eesti would immediately cease their support of professional skiing.

"This is an extremely regrettable situation," real estate fund Kapitel Eesti's marketing director, Merit Kullasepp, told ERR. "Should there be official charges against Estonian skiers, Merko Ehitus and Kapitel Eesti will stop their support of professional skiing in Estonia."

Merko, one of Estonia's largest construction companies, has supported Team Haanja since 2015. The latter is a sports club outside the Estonian Ski Association that former professional Nordic skier (and father of one of the athletes involved in the current doping scandal), Andrus Veerpalu, founded to make Estonian professional Nordic skiing competitive again.

Estonians turning away from former champion Andrus Veerpalu

Mr Veerpalu, father of skier Andreas Veerpalu, one of the two Estonian athletes arrested by Austrian authorities earlier this week, was himself embroiled in a doping scandal in 2011.

He was eventually acquitted in 2013 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on a technicality, the court stating in its ruling that "there are many factors in this case which tend to indicate that the Athlete did in fact himself" apply exogenous human growth hormone doping.

Still, at the time the court eventually ruled that the decision limit, the cut-off time for a test result to be considered an adverse analytical finding, in this case was not enough to uphold Mr Veerpalu's doping conviction.

The response to the scandal in Estonia was immense, with tens of thousands of people expressing their support and belief in the innocence of Andrus Veerpalu. A Facebook page in his support was joined by thousands within just minutes of its creating in 2011, eventually counting more than 60,000 supporters.

Within minutes after news broke of the confession of Karel Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu on Friday morning, said Facebook page started losing followers, so far with soon 20,000 having gone through the trouble to "unlike" it.

"Time to delete this page," some wrote. Others simply commented on the name of the page, "Usume Andrus Veerpalu" ("We believe Andrus Veerpalu"), by saying "Don't believe him anymore".

Public reaction likely to cost skiing teams tens of thousands of euros

As the skiers are losing the support of the public, sponsors are likely to follow suit. This will hit Team Haanja hard: its 2018-2019 budget amounts to €472,450, with just €28,000 added to the total through the Estonian Olympic Committee.

The individual athletes add a total of €88,000 in personal sponsorships, Kapitel Eesti through its Nordic Hotel Forum brand another €50,000, and Merko and its various shareholders contribute a full €150,000.

Toyota dealership ELKE as well as construction company Mapri Ehitus each contribute another €25,000, and shipper Tallink again €10,000 plus ferry tickets.

Team Haanja currently includes nine athletes: Algo Kärp, Raido Ränkel, Marko Kilp, Alvar Johannes Alev, Karl Erik Rabakukk, Kaarel Kasper Kõrge, Patricija Eiduka and the two skiers currently embroiled in the newest doping scandal, Karel Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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