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Life is not a sport for spectators


I have always been involved and committed in sport – as an athlete, coach, volunteer, researcher, communicator and spectator. My educational background is a master degree in Political Science and Physical Education and I have five chapters of my work life with different perspectives of sport. I have extensive theoretical knowledge and many practical experiences about the value of sport. My knowledge and experiences are obtained from youth education, higher education and research institutions, and the daily life of Danish and international elite sport.

For more than three decades I have worked with top athletes, coaches, high performance managers and researchers. In addition, I have worked with many municipalities, clubs, federations and organizations as well as some of Denmark’s largest private companies. Finally, I have many experiences as chairman and member of boards, voluntary organizations, federations, associations and public institutions. Today I have a number of collaborators whom I appreciate and which I solve different types of tasks for and along with. Because – Life is not a sport for spectators!

Blogs

The mental health of Danish elite athletes is neither better nor worse than the population as a whole

January 5, 2021 

A research project on the mental health and well-being of Danish elite athletes, which has just been published in the scientific journal “Psychology of Sport & Exercise” (No. 52 – 2021) shows that Danish elite athletes have the same mental health and well-being as the population as a whole. The research project also shows that there are marked differences in the mental health and well-being of female and male elite athletes in the 18 different sports that are included in the project. The research project, which has been prepared by Associate Professor Andreas Küttel, cand.scient. Andreas K. Petersen and Associate Professor Carsten Hvid Larsen from the Department of Sport Sciences and Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark and financially supported by Team Denmark, contain new knowledge that can – and should – contribute to a more nuanced debate on the subject.

Elite sports are not black or white – but with many colors

In recent years – both nationally and internationally – there has been an increasing focus on elite athletes’ mental health and well-being – or rather lack well-being. Personal stories in the media about eating disorders, performance anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction, unethical behavior and sexual abuse among coaches and managers have seriously shown the “shadow sides” of elite sports. And by the way, the positive gains of elite sports for the athletes in the form of increased self-confidence and stronger self-esteem, courage, will and mental toughness have been dragged into the background. Several international research projects have indicated that increasing demands and increased pressure from the environment on the individual athlete can have detrimental effects on the athletes’ mental health and well-being. This development has also led international organizations such as the International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP), the European Federation of Sport Psychology (FEPSAC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to launch a number of initiatives that can further focus on the topic.

First Danish research project on the mental health and well-being of elite athletes

The aim of the Danish research project is to investigate mental health and well-being among Danish elite athletes, including the prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms in male and female elite athletes. In addition, the aim is also to identify both mental risk factors (eg injuries, overtraining, stress, deselection and lack of sleep) and promoting factors (eg social support from family and friends, well-functioning training environments and certain personality traits of the individual athlete) in relation to his or her mental health and well-being, both in and outside of elite sports.

Athletes from individual sports and team sports with different mental health profiles

The research project’s respondents are 612 Danish elite athletes from 18 different sports who have answered an anonymous online version of the “Holistic Athlete Mental Health Survey”. The elite athletes represent both individual sports (including athletics, badminton, cycling, swimming, triathlon and tennis) and team sports (including basketball, football, handball, ice hockey and volleyball). The athletes were on average 19 years old and practice their elite sport at the national or international level. Based on the responses, the elite athletes were divided into three categories: “Strong mental health profile”, “Moderate mental health profile” and “Weak mental health profile”. Subsequently, differences and similarities between elite athletes in the three categories were analyzed based on a Kruskal-Wallis test.

Danish elite athletes have the same mental health profile as elite athletes in other countries

The results of the research project show that the vast majority of Danish elite athletes – 75% or 3 out of 4 – experience either average or high well-being in everyday life. This proportion is slightly higher than the Danish population in the same age group. Relatively few athletes – 14% – indicated that they had experienced moderate (10%) or severe symptoms (4%) of anxiety within the past two weeks, while 80% – or 4 out of 5 – stated that within the last two weeks two weeks had experienced moderate or no symptoms of depression. 11% of the athletes stated that they had experienced symptoms of both anxiety and depression within the past two weeks. The incidence of severe symptoms of anxiety and depression in Danish elite athletes is at the same level as among the same age group in the population. Likewise, the incidence of symptoms of anxiety and depression among Danish elite athletes is at the same level as among elite athletes in other countries, e.g. Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Significant gender differences

Among the research project’s most exciting results is that female elite athletes have a significantly higher incidence of symptoms of anxiety (20% vs. 10%) and depression (28% vs. 18%) than male elite athletes. In addition, female elite athletes also had a significantly lower overall score on mental well-being than male athletes. These marked gender differences are also found outside the world of elite sports, where the proportion of Danish teenage girls with symptoms of anxiety and depression, e.g. at high schools, has been markedly increasing in recent years. Unfortunately, the researchers do not state specific reasons for these gender differences. In turn, the researchers emphasize that there were no differences between athletes in individual sports and team sports. And that examples of dissatisfaction, anxiety and depression occur in all sports and in age groups.

The vast majority of elite athletes thrive really well in elite sports

The research project also shows that 64% – or almost 2/3 – can be categorized as elite athletes with a “strong mental health profile”, 30% of the elite athletes have a “moderate mental health profile” and only a modest minority – 6% – can be categorized as athletes with a “weak mental health profile”. Elite athletes with a “strong mental health profile” experience good social support, both in private life and in elite sports. Athletes with high well-being and absence of symptoms of mental disorders rate their sports environment to be more supportive in terms of self-determination, involvement, priorities, and choices in and outside of elite sports. Athletes with a “weak mental health” show a high degree of dissatisfaction, sleep less and experience far more stressful elements both in private life, in education and in elite sports. And many of these athletes will probably sooner or later opt out of a continued life as the elite athlete. Of course, it is important to focus on these athletes and not least the challenges and dilemmas that these athletes face in training and competitions. But there is also a great risk that coaches and sports managers in clubs and federations can spend (too) many resources on athletes, who basically do not “fit” into the selective and exclusive structure of elite sports. The researchers from SDU do not go so far with their conclusion, but instead point out that there is a need for individual and flexible solutions for the individual elite athlete.

All sports have independent characteristics and special challenges

Unfortunately, the article presenting the research project does not contain an analysis of the athletes’ mental health and well-being in the individual sports. In my opinion, there is no doubt that training culture, environment, scope and content, social relationships between athletes and between coaches and athletes, division of roles and responsibilities and much, much more are very different across individual sports and team sports. For that reason, coaches, sports managers and athletes – both in the researchers’s and in my opinion – should also be extremely careful about setting up “standard solutions” across sports. Among the researchers’ recommendations for clubs and federations, one thing in particular is clear and precise: Young talents must be dressed very well with knowledge and experience from current and former elite athletes and coaches in order to handle pressure, demands and expectations that undeniably come with a life as elite athlete.

The article: “To Flourish or Languish, that is the question: Exploring the mental health profiles of Danish elite athletes” (Psychology of Sport & Exercise, No. 52 – 2021) can be requested by contacting Associated Professor Andreas Küttel (mail: akuttel@health.sdu.dk). 

 

 

 

 

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2020: Annus corona horribilis – also in the world of sport

December 20, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has affected every person’s behavior and everyday life, both locally, nationally and globally. For several weeks and months, girls and boys have had training, matches and competitions in football, swimming and gymnastics canceled. And international sporting events, such as the 2020 Olympic Games and the 2020 European Championships in football, have been postponed until next summer. In addition, a large number of World Cups, Olympic Games qualifiers, European and World Championships that were supposed to have been held over the last ten months have been canceled and most will never be completed. For that reason, it also makes no sense to compare the Danish sports results in 2020 with previous years. On the other hand, it makes good sense to look forward to the very large number of international sporting events, which – hopefully, but still very uncertain – will be held in the new year.

Continued uncertainty over the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 202(1) in Tokyo

Olympic Games (OG) and Paralympic Games (PG) are for athletes, both in Denmark and internationally, a very special event – not least because of the OG’s and PG’s enormous media coverage and the personal, collective and national prestige that is associated with winning the OG or PG medals. As early as the end of March 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Government of Japan decided to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games to the period July 23 – August 8, 2021 and the 2020 Paralymic Games to the period August 24 – September 5, 2021. The IOC – and not least many Olympic federations, which have the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games as the overriding source of income – will go “incredibly far” in relation to global public health, to conduct the OG and the PL in the summer of 2021. Cancellation of the OG and the PG will result in the loss of giant television revenues and sharply declining revenues from commercial partners, which will throw all Olympic sports – except football – into an existential, economic crisis. Postponement of the OG and the PL has already resulted in an extra costs of DKK 12 billion for Japan as a nation and Tokyo as a city. The extra costs will be used in particular for a large number of measures to prevent the spread of infection during the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. In addition, the support of the Japanese people for the OG and the PL has been markedly declining in recent months. The latest poll from the news media Kyodo News shows that over 70% of the Japanese population is in favor of a further postponement or a complete cancellation of the games. Most – and not least “sports fanatics” – can now “only” hope that an approved vaccine can create greater and better safety for all – athletes, coaches, leaders and spectators – when people from more than 200 countries gather to compete for Olympic and Paralympic honors.

Denmark has qualified OG athletes and teams in many sports

This year’s cancellations of the World Championships in i.a. badminton, wrestling, kayaking and rowing as well as the cancellations of the European Championships in i.a. athletics and swimming make it very difficult to assess the Danish medal chances in Tokyo. Overall, it can be stated that Denmark currently has qualified athletes and teams for the Olympic Games in 12 different sports: Athletics, table tennis, archery, wrestling, cycling (track and road), handball (men), kayaking, horseback riding (dressage, military and jumping), rowing, sailing, shooting and swimming. In addition, Denmark has very good chances of qualifying athletes in badminton and golf based on world ranking positions, so the number of sports probably lands close to 15, which was the number of Danish sports at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Track cycling has the most and biggest Olympic medal chances

In my opinion, the biggest Danish Olympic medal favorites must be found in track cycling, where the Danish riders at the World Championships in February achieved impressive results. This year’s by far the best Danish sports performance is the World Championship and a new world record with a time of 3.44.672 in 4 km team pursuit. Lasse Norman Hansen, Julius Johansen, Frederik Rodenberg and Rasmus Pedersen won ahead of New Zealand and Italy, whereas proud track cycling nations such as Australia and Great Britain disappointed terribly. These two nations have traditionally fought for Olympic and World Cup gold for a number of years. And they will definitely try to challenge Denmark in the battle for the Olympic gold medals in Tokyo. I also believe in the Olympic medal for the two experienced track riders – Lasse Norman Hansen and Michael Mørkøv – in madison. Both have previously won Olympic medals and in February 2020 they became supreme world champions. It will also be really exciting to follow both Julie Leth and Amalie Dideriksen in madison and Amalie Dideriksen in omnium at the upcoming Olympic Games. Recent years’ World Championships and World Cup results have shown that – also among the female track riders – there is medal potential.

Cycling is clearly the sport in Denmark that has shown the best results and the greatest sporting progress in the last 3-4 years. Danish riders have also achieved great results in 2020, both in classic races such as the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana as well as one-day classic races such as Gent-Welvelgen, which this year was won by ex-world champion Mads Pedersen. The impressive international level among Danish riders was also confirmed at the 2020 World Championships in September, which was held in Italy. It did not become World Championships medals, but 4 top 8 places in 4 different Olympic disciplines: Jakob Fuglsang was No. 5 in line race, Kasper Asgren was No. 6 in time trial, Cecilie Uttrup was No. 8 in line race and Emma Norsgaard was No. 7 in time trial. For that reason, road riders must also be credited with good medal chances when it gets off the road in and outside Tokyo.

Sailing is traditionally a strong Danish Olympic sport

I also believe in Olympic medals in sailing – one of the classic Danish Olympic sports. Over the years, Danish sailors have won as many as 30 Olympic medals, including 12 of gold. The 2020 World Championships in Olympic disciplines such as 49’s, 49’s FX, Nacra and Laser Radial, which was held in Australia just before the outbreak of the pandemic, unfortunately did not yield any World Championship medals, but all 4 top 8 places: Anne-Marie Rindom was No. 4 in Laser Radial, Jonas Warrer and Jacob Precht became No. 7 in 49’s, Anne-Julie Schütt and Iben Nielsby became No. 6 in 49’s FX, while Lin Cenholt and Christian Peter Lübeck became No. 8 in Nacra. In my opinion, Anne-Marie Rindum in Laser Radial has the greatest Olympic medal potential in Tokyo. Rindom has won 2 World Championships  and 2 WC bronze medals within the last 5 years and at the 2016 Olympic Games she won a bronze medal. I also think that Cenholt and Lübeck have good chances of winning a (surprising) Olympic medal in Tokyo.

Rowing and badminton also have Olympic medal candidates

Among good Danish sporting results in 2020 should also be mentioned Sverri E. Nielsen’s European Championship in rowing, not least because two of the strong Faroese’s probably worst competitors for the upcoming Olympic Games – Kjetil Borch from Norway and Oliver Zeidler from Germany – were clearly defeated in a nicely disposed finale. Viktor Axelsen’s All England victory in badminton, which was played immediately before the Covid-19 pandemic’s global lock-down, was also among the best Danish sports results in 2020.

The men’s national team handball delivered the most disappointing result

The most disappointing sporting performance of the year was, in my opinion, the Danish men’s national team handball at the European Championships at the beginning of 2020. It is extremely rare for a reigning Olympic champion and world champion to leave the European Championships after the group game. But a one-goal defeat to Iceland and a draw against Hungary meant an early return trip for an otherwise very victorious and medal-winning Danish national team. It will be exciting to follow the men’s national team’s performance, both at the World Championship in Egypt in a few weeks and not least at the Olympic Games, where the titles will be defended. I will not be surprised if it turns out to be both a World Championship and an Olympic medal – perhaps not of gold – but the quality and especially the variaty of top players on the Danish men’s national team is completely unique in recent years. The same quality and variaty is not found on the women’s national team handball, although the European Championships at home count contained several uplifting elements and good play leading up to a very disappointing performance against the tournament’s surprise Croatia in the battle for bronze medals.

The men’s national football team is going to two “exams” in the coming year

The Danish men’s national football team is facing two very exciting “exams” in 2021: the European Championship finals in 2020 with three home matches in the “Parken”: Finland (June 12), Belgium (June 17) and Russia (June 21). Based on the individual nations’ rankings on FIFA’s world rankings, Belgium (No. 1) and Denmark (No. 12) are favorites to advance from the group stage, but also in the world of football, big surprises happen from time to time. For me, it will also be a big surprise – or more precisely a big disappointment – if Denmark does not succeed in 2021 in qualifying for the 2022 World Championship in football, which will be held in the oil state of Qatar. Opponents in WC qualifiers – Austria (No. 23), Scotland (No. 48), Israel (No. 87), the Faroe Islands (No. 107) and Moldova (No. 177) – are all placed significantly lower on FIFA’s world rankings than Denmark (No. 12).

Finally, I would like to wish everyone – athletes, coaches, leaders and spectators – in Danish and international elite sports – a Merry Christmas and a very busy New sports Year.

 

 

 

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Atalanta B.C. – from “lift club” to CL quarter-finalist

November 23, 2020

“The main explanations for our performance success are a systematic game concept, the ability to develop the individual players and the crew treatment at a very high level. We cannot afford to buy world stars like the big clubs as Juventus F.C., A.C. Milan, F.C. Inter, A.S. Roma or S.S. Lazio, but instead find potential top players both in – and not least outside – Italy. In addition, we must develop talented youth players in our academy, which is one of Italy’s absolute best. And we have been very successful in recent seasons. Today we have players from 12 different countries and players such as “Papu” Gomez, Ilicic, Zapata and Hateboer failed to fulfil their potential in other Serie A clubs – it has only really been redeemed here with us”. My good friend Jens Bangsbo is – as always – very precise when, over a double espresso at the restaurant “Cucina” on Mount San Vigilio outside Bergamo, he talks about Atalanta B.C.’s sporting achievements since head coach Gian Piero Gasperini took office in the summer of 2016. Bangsbo is now in his third season at the club, which last season reached the quarter-finals of football’s premier tournament: the Champions League.

Strong combination of theoretical knowledge and applied practice

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Jens Bangsbo played over 350 matches in Denmark’s best football league, including for Kastrup Boldklub, Hvidovre IF, Lyngby Boldklub and Esbjerg fB. He’s a graduate of P.E. and math and has written more than 300 scientific articles and 25 books on football. And not least, he has managed to integrate the physical, technical and tactical elements of the game, both in the daily training and the club’s game concept. Bangsbo has also been associated with the Danish national football team for several periods as physical coach during the final rounds and has been coach and educator of the DBU, UEFA and FIFA. Today, Bangsbo is regarded as one of the world’s most competent experts in physical training in football. And the commitment to Atalanta B.C. is today combined with the job of professor in applied physiology at the Department of Sport Science and Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen.

An offensive and aggressive game concept

It was also as a physical coach that Jens Bangsbo met Gian Piero Gasperini at Juventus F.C. – Italy’s most winning club, both nationally and internationally. At the time, Bangsbo was a consultant for the club under legendary coach Marcello Lippi, while Gasperini served as youth coach at the same club. Gasperini and Bangsbo quickly found each other in conversations about the qualities and challenges of different game concepts. Gasperini has always been a believer in an offensive style of play that demands the individual players, both physically, technically, tactically and mentally. “It is far from coincidental that we have been the highest-scoring Serie A team in the last two seasons. Our formation is typically 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 with offensive, aggressive pressure on the opponent. This means that players have to deliver a very large running syllabus in every single game, whether we play at home or away. The game concept also means that all training sessions take place with very high intensity, which is far from suitable for all players. Football is a team sport, but training must be individualised to achieve the greatest possible impact. Therefore, we very often work with specific technical-tactical training in groups of 3-5 players. With us, players must fulfil the game concept – and not the other way around. Therefore, it also happens relatively often that the club buys players that we sell on relatively quickly or rent out, because they simply cannot honor the kind of football that Atalanta B.C. must achieve results on”, says the 63-year-old Bangsbo.

Physical and mental fatigue “just around the corner”

The offensive game concept of aggressive pressure on opponent and a high defensive line with 3 defenders and short distance between defense and midfield also makes in between Atalanta B.C. vulnerable. Not least against teams who master the counter-game at a high level, such as Liverpool F.C. “We have seen that in the first game of the season many goals have been scored against us, both in Serie A and the Champions League. That’s because our pressure game hasn’t worked quite as well as last season. And then we have made too many personal mistakes – it will be punished about the very best teams”, says Bangsbo. Among the reasons for Atalanta B.C.’s good results over a long period of time is according to Bangsbo that the club has been spared from injuries. “We have only used 14-15 players for almost a year, which is quite unusual in terms of the large number of matches we have played. However, we can now see several negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which extended last season and meant virtually no summer break. Many of our players are now both physically and mentally tired after a very large number of matches. It costs that the players have not been given the break their bodies are used to and need. For that reason, I may be a little concerned about the coming weeks as we have to perform in Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League. The decisive battle for qualification for the eighth-place final in CL will probably be the match against Ajax in Amsterdam”.

Conversations are the key factor to a very strong sense of community

Jens Bangsbo has worked in Italy for several years now, but has also been associated with clubs in both Greece and Turkey. “I love Italy and football – and not least the Italians’ attitude to life. It was a great experience for me and my family to stay here for three years. We felt welcome and Italians are generally open-minded and very passionate about the things that they find important in life. I have also experienced with Italian top coaches such as Lippi, Ancelotti and Gasperini that they are very adept at seeking advice and guidance from the professional experts who are part of their staff. Italian top coaches often have very high charisma, as is the case with Gasperini. And then they have a clear philosophy with the team’s game concept. In addition, I learn these years a great deal from Gian Piero’s crew treatment. He manages, through often long and in-depth conversations, both with the individual players, the team and the staff around the team, to create a very strong sense of community” continues Bangsbo, who has not set a date for the end of his cooperation with Gasperini and Atalanta B.C. “I have learned from a long life in football that things can change in a split second – also in Italy”.

You can read more with Atalanta B.C. on the website: https://www.atalanta.it


You can also read about Jens Bangsbo’s scientific articles and books on football here:

https://nexs.ku.dk/ansatte/?pure=da/persons/jens-bangsbo%2824839560-f889-42a6-9b73-97b69f101548%29.html

 

 

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  • “Michael Andersen is one of Denmark’s most experienced and competent CEO’s with a lot of knowledges and experiencies from the international world of sports. In the period as CEO of Team Denmark, Michael renewed the organization, which gave our top-athletes, teams and federations the opportunity to achieve outstanding results in international topsport”
    Finn Lund AndersenCEO of AS3 – Public Sector (2013 -), Director of Human Ressources and Communication at Salling Group A/S (2007 – 2013) and Director of Human Ressources at TDC (1997 – 2007).
  • “Throughout recent years, Danish School Sports has undergone an exciting development as an organization. In this connection, we have made use of Michael Andersen’s extensive professional competencies and knowledge within school sports, strategy and organization. His work has given us new perspectives, both on our self-understanding and future potentials. We have greatly appreciated our collaboration and, not least, the way he has shown respect to us. I have always appreciated Michael’s honesty and his direct behavior”. 
    Finn Kristensen, Chairman of the Danish School Sports (2012 -) and Principal at at Hellebjerg Idrætsefterskole (2019 – ).
  • ”I know Michael Andersen from his time as CEO of Team Denmark. Michael was an incredibly skillfull manager who also had focus at the individual athlete. He took the time to going into the individual topics and challenges of the athlete and he was also very solution-oriented. Moreover, he is a down-to-earth person who is comfortable with being around ”.
    Maja Alm, orienteering – Denmark’s most winning orienteering runner with a total of 16 World Championship medals, including 4 WC gold medals in the sprint distance (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and 3 World Championships in relay (2015 and 2016)
  • “Michael Andersen is an excellent manager. His human and professional skills enable him to quickly analyze the situation of human beings and teams, thus giving them the optimal coaching, which is the foundation of good performance. I have had the pleasure of the coaching both in the competitive situation and in a negotiating situation, and in both cases Michael’s analytical skills contributed to good results”.
    Kasper Hvidt, handball – European Championship (2008), 4 Danish Championships and 2 Spanish Championships. Today sports manager of “Astralis” – One of the world’s best Counter-Strike teams (E-sports).
  • “Michael Andersen has some unique skills in coaching and to advicing the individual athlete, teams and the federation. He is always very passioned and incredibly well informed. With considerered decisions and clear communication, Michael is able to manage even the most complex negotiations and difficult situations ”.
    Thomas Jacobsen, sailing – High Performance Manager at Dansk Sailing Federation (2009 -) and Olympic gold medalist (2000).
  • “Michael Andersen is one of the best managers I have experienced and been lucky to work with. He was a very active person in relation to optimizing relationships for me and my teammates, so that we were able to win medals at international championships such as the Olympics, the World Championships and the European Championships. In addition, he was a crucial factor when resolving conflicts – and exceptionally good at finding good solutions for both parts in conflicts. As CEO of Team Denmark, Michael has always been aware of our demands, wishes and needs as world-class athletes.
    Christinna Pedersen, badminton – Olympic bronze medal (2012) and Olympic silver (2016), World Championship silver medal (2015) and World Championship bronze medals (2013, 2014 and 2017).  
  • “Michael Andersen has a very high level of professional knowledge and a unique network of elite sports in the Nordic countries, both in relation to research institutions, elite sports organizations, federations and clubs. As editor of “Idrott & Kunskap”, Michael has been a great inspiration for developing the journal – from a Swedish journal to a Nordic journal and in the longer term an international journal with English as language. Michael is also a really talented writer with a great overview and insight into many different topics in international elite sports and research. It is also characteristic of Michael that he always prioritize the dissemination of knowledge from researchers to coaches to benefit of the athletes”.

    Christian Carlsson, editor – “Idrott & Kunskap” (2004 – )