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Friday, April 19, 2024

Norway Cup bigger than ever

Around 32,000 young football players from all over the world are in Oslo this week for the annual Norway Cup, which makes it the biggest on record as the tournament celebrates its 40th anniversary. It’s sparked some unwelcome headlines recently over the exclusion of one girls’ team from Kenya, but more than 1,600 others are kicking off 4,200 matches between now and Saturday.

Dark clouds have threatened the annual Norway Cup football tournament, but play got underway on Sunday during a period of sunshine that continued on Monday. PHOTO: Norway Cup/Facebook

Fully 56 nations are represented at this year’s Norway Cup, billed as the biggest youth football tournament in the world. The players aged 10 to 19 are housed in 35 schools and 11 hotels around Oslo, with 70 professional observers monitoring fair play and 400 referees judging the matches that are played on 71 fields around the capital.

The tournament represents an enormous effort on the part of organizers and supporters, volunteers and business sponsors and foreign aid sources that help finance travel and participation for the young players, who themselves have worked hard to qualify for tournament teams. The vast majority of them enjoy a week of fellowship, football and cultural exchange, but also can gain insight into the harsh world of international politics.

On Monday, for example, Norwegian media reported how the flying of the Kurdish flag by supporters for a team from Kurdistan sparked some controversy. Frode Kyvåg, head of the organization mounting the tournament year after year, told newspaper Aftenposten that the flag issue was a matter of debate.

“Kurdistan isn’t a recognized state,” Kyvåg conceded. “We have therefore asked for a written evaluation from the Foreign Ministry and will follow their recommendation (on whether the flag will be allowed).”

The players themselves just want to have fun and play football, like here at an opening match between Norwegian teams from Oppsal and Kragerø. PHOTO: Norway Cup/Facebook

Another thorny issue is the absence of a girls’ team from the Mathare slum in Nairobi that had taken part in Norway Cup since 1990s. Their absence follows charges of corruption among team managers and, not least, statements from several of the girls themselves that they were subject to sexual assault. Some have said they were raped or otherwise threatened and abused as part of the selection process for Norway Cup.

“My coach raped me before the team that would go to Norway was chosen,” one girl told newspaper Fædrelandsvennen. Such abuse occurring several years ago and its aftermath have led to a major conflict between the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), those supporting it and officials of Norway Cup. The girls claim they didn’t receive support themselves after the sexual abuse and police reports were not filed. MYSA officials claim they have offered support to victims they recognized, and saw to it that the coaches and club officials involved were fired.

MYSA nonetheless has lost financial support from development foundation Strømmestiftelsen, which in turn has upset Kyvåg of Norway Cup. He claims MYSA has done a lot to help poverty-stricken youth in Nairobi, and hopes Norwegian foreign aid officials will probe the foundation’s role itself and help restore support for MYSA.

There are more positive stories coming out of Norway Cup this year, including the participation of the first girls’ team from Iraq that was proudly announced by Iraq’s ambassador to Norway, Sundus Omar Ali Albayraqdar, along with the participation of a Palestinian girls’ team. Norway Cup 2012 is also welcoming teams from Botswana, El Salvador, Congo, Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic for the first time. Many of the teams get financial aid to travel to Norway from Norwegian aid sources.

Meanwhile, the tournament itself seemed threatened most by unstable weather systems and the heavy rain that has poured down on Oslo and much of the rest of the country for most of the summer. The sun came out on opening day on Sunday, though, and was shining again on Monday.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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