More than 30,000 young football enthusiasts from all over the world are in Oslo for the annual Norway Cup football tournament that kicks off this weekend. It still ranks as the world’s largest youth football tournament, also after a few Norwegian football teams dropped out because of terrorism fears.
The teams, from small towns around Norway, reportedly felt “a bit unsafe” about taking part in the huge sporting event in Oslo, after Norwegian authorities revealed Thursday that a vague but credible terrorist threat had been lodged against the country.
“Football is supposed to be fun, and it’s not fun when you feel a bit unsafe,” Rune Bakke, coach of a girls’ team from Oppland County, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Therefore they’ve chosen to stay home this year.”
Four other Norwegian teams had dropped out as well by Saturday afternoon, while several others either were denied visas for entry into Norway or, as in the case of a Palestinian youth team, they couldn’t get out of Gaza. Norway Cup runs from Sunday July 27 to August 2 with the opening parade and show as usual starting Saturday afternoon and evening.
More than 1,500 teams
The tournament is being held for the 42nd year in a row and had attracted around 1,560 teams during pre-registration. The drop-outs make up a tiny portion of the total, but it’s highly unusual for any team to voluntarily withdraw. Teams from Hordaland, Grue in Hedmark and Isfjorden in Møre og Romsdal chose nonetheless to do so.
Kim Hugo Nyheim of the two boys’ teams from Isfjorden told local newspaper Åndalsnes Avis that the tournament “surely will go well, but our gut feeling told us to stay home this year. We had a meeting and I asked parents to contact me if they if they were worried. I received lots of calls, and it just became clear that our teams won’t take part after all.”
The vast majority of others will, with thousands of young football players from 55 countries looking forward to start playing at football fields and arenas all over the Oslo area. The first match was due to kick off at 9am Sunday.
“We had a meeting (with players and staff) after our last training session,” Vegard Fossem, co-leader of a football team from Håkvik, told news bureau NTB. “We told them them that a terror threat had been made and that there would be more armed police on patrol. The girls had few questions. We rely on the police.”
Helicopters whirred overhead in Oslo as opening ceremonies began Saturday afternoon. The tournament is headquartered on the vast Ekeberg plateau on Oslo’s east side and the ceremonies were due to include Norway’s Royal Guards performing a drill routine in full uniform despite record warm temperatures in Oslo. Opening festivities would also include concerts and a traditional amusement park, but two teams withdrew from participation.
Players range in age from 10 to 19 years and many teams from poor countries are sponsored by the Norwegian government or other interests. The event also attracts thousands of parents, state and local officials, professional football stars and top politicians.
This year a team made up of street children from Pakistan is being flown to Oslo, thanks to the efforts of a Pakistani-Norwegian woman, Tina Shagufta Kornmo. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that she was so impressed to see the team place third in a tournament in Brazil that she launched a fundraising effort to get Team Azad from Karachi into Norway Cup. They were arriving in Oslo on Saturday.