The Norwegian cross-country skiing team's decision to withdraw from the Tour de Ski has been criticised ©Getty Images

Russian Cross-Country Skiing Federation President Elena Vyalbe has accused Norway of being "disrespectful" to the sport after pulling out of this month’s International Ski Federation (FIS) Tour de Ski over coronavirus concerns.

The eight-leg competition - which forms part of the FIS Cross-Country Skiing World Cup - is due to run until January 10, with athletes currently battling it out in Italy after competing in Switzerland.

Leading nations Norway, Sweden and Finland - who had already opted to skip December’s World Cup events due to the coronavirus pandemic - called for the Tour de Ski programme to be shortened only to be rejected by FIS.

While Sweden and Finland still agreed to compete, Norway withdrew from the event - a decision criticised by Vyalbe.

"It is disrespectful to colleagues, FIS and the large ski family," said Vyalbe in an interview with Norwegian newspaper VG.

"If Norway participates in ski jumping, biathlon, biathlon, why not cross-country skiing?

"It is dangerous (due to coronavirus) but you have to take some chances.

"It is a pity that Norway does not participate.

"It is always interesting when all the strongest nations are involved."

Norway's Therese Johaug wanted this season's Tour de Ski to be shortened to five races ©Getty Images
Norway's Therese Johaug wanted this season's Tour de Ski to be shortened to five races ©Getty Images

In response to Vyalbe’s comments, Espen Bjervig, Norwegian cross-country skiing team manager, said the health of athletes and support staff remained top priority.

"We do not know the consequences of COVID-19 well enough and do not want to challenge the lung capacity of endurance athletes with regard to possible infection," Bjervig told VG.

"Of course, we understand that other sports may have a different perception of this."

Norwegian cross-country star Therese Johaug previously claimed she would only compete in the Tour de Ski if there were a maximum of five races on the programme.

But Pierre Mignerey, cross-country race director for FIS, insisted the request was not "realistic".

The Norwegian Ski Association cited the 2021 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships - set to begin in Oberstdorf in late February - as its priority for the season when announcing it was opting out of December’s World Cup legs in Swiss resort Davos and German town Dresden.

The team's experience at Ruka in Finland in November, when the World Cup season began, was also mentioned, with athletes and officials said to have found that maintaining social distancing was more demanding than they had anticipated.

Similarly, the Finns were not overly impressed with the experience of the first World Cup event of the new campaign.