World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen died on Saturday (20) at the age of 74 after failing to recover from the stroke that he suffered in March.
Hansen, born in May 1946, grew up in Bygdøy, a peninsula to the west of Oslo. He took part in many sports during his youth and at the age of 17 he formed an ice hockey club.
After graduating from university with a degree in mathematics, he qualified as a track and field referee and later became host of a sports programme at a local radio station. He also embarked on his sports administration career, starting out as a member of the Norwegian Athletics Federation Junior Committee between 1968 and 1972.
On the eve of the 1972 Bislett Games, the meeting organiser was injured by a stray javelin. Hansen, who by that point had made his mark as a referee, was asked to stand in, and he continued to work as an assistant to the organiser for several years.
It was around this same time that he turned to his other passion, stamp collecting, and he started his own stamp shop, SA Hansen SA.
In 1985 he was promoted to the role of meeting director for the Bislett Games, a position he held for 24 years. He’d run the Bislett Games during the summer and would then work as a stamp dealer for the rest of the year. He sold the shop in the early 1990s but retained an office in a stamp shop until 2012.
During his time as meeting director, the Bislett Games was part of the IAAF Grand Prix, Golden Four, and the Golden League. He was also a member of the IAAF Grand Prix Commission from 1985 to 1998, a member of the IAAF Golden League working group from 1997 to 2009, and was president of the Norwegian Athletics Federation from 2003 to 2015.
After serving as president of EuroMeetings from 1998 to 2006, Hansen was elected vice president of European Athletics from 2007 to 2011 and was then elected president in 2015. He had been a World Athletics Council Member since 2015.
During his tenure as president of European Athletics, Hansen never shied away from new ideas. The 2018 European Championships in Berlin, meanwhile, was a resounding success.
“I dare say that everyone who attended our European Athletics Championships in Berlin, or experienced the event through the media, was aware that something very special was happening during those days,” he said last year. “Many, including me, have said that Berlin was simply European Athletics’ best event, ever.
“Perhaps we could even say that athletics has arrived at the start of the shining era I hope to reach,” he added. “We still have a lot of work in front of us and greater heights to scale, but I remain an optimist. We are the world’s best sport.”
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe paid tribute to Hansen.
“Today I have lost one of my closest friends,” said Coe. “We have known each other for 43 years. Sven gave me my first big international break in athletics at the Bislett Games in Oslo and provided me with the platform for two of my three world records in 41 days back in 1979. He was in the vanguard of globalising our sport and, along with Andreas Brugger in Zurich and Wilfred Meert in Brussels, was one of the three game changers in our sport. He brought a professionalism to our one-day meetings that is still the template today and crucially he had the political savvy to be able to do that and navigate the sport from an amateur era into becoming an open sport and then a professional sport when there was a real risk that fault lines between East and west Europe could have split the sport apart. But his loss today, alongside his much loved family, will be felt most acutely by generations of athletes whose aspirations he helped fulfil. Our deepest sympathies go to his family and the European Athletics family who today lost their hugely popular and effective president.”
European Athletics Interim President Dobromir Karamarinov said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Svein Arne today. He was a great leader, a visionary for our sport and a charismatic personality within the athletics family. He was much loved by all those who knew him well and above all he was a friend of the athletes. We have lost a great man. All my thoughts and wishes go to his family at this difficult time.”
European Athletics CEO Christian Milz added: “The world of athletics and the European Athletics family has today lost an inspirational leader and a good friend. I had the honour and privilege to work with Svein Arne for a number of years prior to 2015, and since then as our President. He was always trying his best to promote the sport, and always with a smile on his face. We will all miss him. I send my deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Many athletes, past and present, shared their tributes as well.
"So sad to hear of the passing of president of @EuroAthletics Svein Arne Hansen," Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi said via Twitter. "He was always so encouraging and supporting. I will always remember him smiling and joking around."
Jenny Meadows, the 2011 European indoor 800m champion, said: "Absolutely devastated to hear of the passing of someone that was “one of a kind”. He knew the sport, understood the challenges, was keen to embrace change and appreciated people. We will all miss him so very much."