Copenhagen: When Viktor Axelsen brought home the Tokyo Olympics gold medal, the 27-year-old has cemented his status as Denmark’s sports hero. However, after announcing his relocation to Dubai last Monday, he seemed to have distanced himself from his fans, Denmark’s tax rules, and a very systematic badminton culture in Denmark which had nurtured many badminton legends such as Morten Frost, Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen, Peter Gade, and himself.
In addition, Axelsen was moving to an oil-riched country that has been repeatedly criticized for lack of human rights.
The Danish media, TV 2 has reported that Stanis Elsborg of Play the Game – an international conference and communication initiative aiming to strengthen the ethical foundation of sport and promote democracy, believed the reason Dubai was able to attract sports stars of Viktor Axelsen’s caliber such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Novak Djokovic because it could provide luxurious and top professional training center for these athletes.
“According to Axelsen, the facilities were custom-built for him,” said Elsborg.
“Dubai would then profiled Axelsen, Ronaldo, and other world stars on social media and through various PR channels, trying to create a perception that Dubai is a training and holiday paradise, shifting the international attention from its poor human rights records,” added Elsborg.
Meanwhile, TV 2’s badminton editor Dennis Bostrup said that Axelsen’s popularity will inevitably take a dive.
A sponsor advisor and branding expert at DentsuX suggested that timing played an important factor in Axelsen’s move to Dubai.
“The timing of his move was critical. He just came back from the Olympics with a gold medal, he has hero status right now, which could digest some of the negative PR as a result of his move to Dubai.”
Kenneth Cortsen of UCN University College also pointed to the importance of timing.
“He has a reputation of being an extremely serious and detail-oriented athlete, alongside with his very successful sporting performances, those would ensure that his brand would not be torn apart, even though he is now associated with a country like Dubai,” said Cortsen.
“But now, he has to prove that the move pays off. Fans, media, and coaches will quickly point fingers if he could not maintain his status as a top badminton player.”
According to Stanis Elsborg from Play The Game, if Axelsen had chosen to move to Dubai five years ago, it might have gone unnoticed.
“More and more people are starting to worry about the connection between sports, politics, and human rights. It will haunt Axelsen for some time that he chose to move to Dubai.”