Why Isn’t Hockey Popular in Norway?

As a wealthy country with a cold climate, Norway ought to dominate ice hockey like some of its other far-northern neighbors.

The fact that it doesn’t has sometimes been attributed to the game’s lack of popularity in the Scandinavian country. But why exactly isn’t hockey popular in Norway? 

Hockey isn’t popular in Norway because its sporting culture favors sports such as soccer and cross-country skiing.

These sports see greater participation among the population and enjoy higher viewership. However, ice hockey’s lack of popularity is only relative to the most popular sports.  

This article will delve into Norwegian sporting culture in greater detail and highlight some of its more fascinating aspects.

Also, see What Is Norway Known For? to learn more.

Is Norway good at hockey? See below

Is Norway Good at Ice Hockey? 

Norway’s Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden and Finland, are some of the top sporting nations in the global ice hockey arena.

Together with Canada, Russia, the United States of America, and the Czech Republic, they comprise a group of the big six nations that dominate the sport. 

The big six consistently top the rankings of the men’s game and are also in the top ten of the women’s global rankings. [1]

Norway is good at ice hockey but not as much of a dominant force as some of its other Scandinavian neighbors are. The country ranks competitively by global standards – usually in the top 20.

However, it does not match the high standards set by the sport’s most dominant global powerhouses.

According to Mats Zuccarello, the country’s leading player, who plies his trade in the North American National Hockey League, Norway’s lack of competitiveness can be traced to the lack of skating rinks in the country.

But this is a chicken-and-egg explanation. As a wealthy nation, Norway could easily afford to build rinks if the game were more popular. [2]

The fact is that other sports crowd out ice hockey in the Norwegian national imagination. Fewer Norwegians play ice hockey compared to sports like soccer and skiing.

The GET-liga, the Norwegian ice hockey league, struggles for attention compared to other sports.

With a season running through the summer months, it saves itself the unenviable task of competing with the winter sports that Norway dominates, only to clash with the most popular sport in the country and the world – soccer. 

Speculation surrounding the historical reasons for the relative apathy Norwegians have towards hockey usually focuses on the country’s mountainous terrain.

This terrain, the argument goes, favors sports like skiing over ice hockey. 

In contrast, countries like Finland and Sweden have lots of lakes.

These geographical conditions have shaped the sporting culture of the different nations over the years to favor some sports over others. [3]     

Also, see How to Move to Norway to learn more.

Norway river
Which sports are popular in Norway? See below

Which Sports Are Popular in Norway? 

The most popular sports in Norway, in declining order of popularity, are soccer, cross-country skiing, biathlon, and ice hockey.

This ranking is affirmed based on various factors, including participation rates and spectatorship at major sporting events.

Although their women tend to do better, Norwegian soccer teams are not among the highest ranking in the world.

Relatively starved for funds, the Norwegian domestic league is not among the most competitive in the world either. 

Because of this, Norwegian soccer fans primarily turn to the various European domestic leagues for their quota of sporting entertainment.

Despite this, soccer enjoys the highest participation rate of any sport in the country.

It is popular in schools across the country, and as many as 8.5% of Norwegians actively participate in playing soccer. [4]

The second-most popular sport in Norway is its national sport, cross-country skiing. The country is a significant force in cross-country skiing and other winter sports.

It consistently wins the top medals at the most competitive global sporting competitions, such as the Olympics and the World Cup. [5]

Over the years, Norway has been one of the most dominant nations at the Winter Olympics, often finishing near the top of the combined medals tally.

Norwegian outperformance in winter sports is particularly remarkable considering its population, which is tiny compared to nations such as the United States and Russia.

The country has such a stellar reputation in international skiing that Norwegians joke that they were born with skis on their feet.

No doubt, their consistent outperformance is rooted in deep historical factors. Archeological finds have traced ski use in the region back over 5,000 years. [6]

However, Norway also invests significantly in its winter sports program. In comparison, professional athletes in countries like the US are often left to find their own sponsors.

As a result, many have dropped out of these niche sports over the years. 

Norway’s global dominance of cross-country skiing makes the sport a top draw in television viewership.

Many Norwegians tune in to the big international events to enjoy watching their nation shine on the global stage. They keenly follow the 5-mila race conducted in Oslo each year.

The country has produced some of the sport’s biggest stars over the years. Just two Norwegian cross-country skiers, Marit Bjørgen and Bjørn Dæhlie, have won 34 Olympic medals between them.

The biathlon – a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting – is another sport in which Norwegians consistently fare exceptionally well.

The Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen has won 13 Olympic medals at Biathlon events. 

Like cross-country skiing, this has made biathlon a significant draw for Norwegian television audiences. Today, it is the third-most popular sport in the country. 

Other winter sports like alpine skiing and Nordic Combined skiing – which combines cross-country skiing with ski jumping – also significantly add to the Norwegian tally at the Winter Olympics.

Many Norwegians watch these sports, making them popular in the country.

Also, see Why Is Norway So Rich? to learn more.

what is Norway famous for
What sports is Norway good at? See below

What Is the National Sport of Norway?

The national sport of Norway is cross-country skiing. The country is a global powerhouse in the sport and regularly wins the top medals at major international events such as the Olympics and the World Cup.

Over the years, Norway has dominated the sport to such an extent that athletes from other nations sometimes strategize for silver and bronze medals. 

Its mountainous far-northern geography means that Norwegians can enjoy many months of excellent skiing conditions and numerous trails to practice.

The sport is deeply embedded in Norwegian sporting culture and is the second-most popular sport in the nation, behind only soccer. 


Hockey isn’t popular in Norway compared to soccer or cross-country skiing because of various cultural and historical factors.

Also, see What Is There To Do In Norway? to learn more.

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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