Norway’s huge international football tournament for children and youth is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, but with two fewer flags waving on the sidelines. Both Russia and Belarus were banned last spring following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and replaced by lots of other teams including one made up of Ukrainian children who are refugees in Oslo.
There were some protests when Norway Cup’s leaders decided that teams from Russia and Belarus wouldn’t be allowed to participate. Newspaper Vårt Land reported that the decision could violate the UN’s convention on children and even their human rights, but tournament officials stressed how they were following steps taken by Norway’s national athletics and football federations’ decision to ban Russian athletes from international competition. Traveling to Norway would also have been difficult, given all the war-related restrictions, and no Russian teams applied to enter the tournament.
The Norwegian government refused to take a stand, noting that while it helps fund sports it doesn’t directly lead any of the athletics organizations, and “that’s an important principle to follow, not least given the times we’re in now.” The government minister in charge of sports and culture, Anette Trettebergstuen, noted how Norway’s national athletics federation is “an autonomous organization,” as are the clubs like Bækkelaget, which is behind Norway Cup.
The clubs otherwise had lots to celebrate this summer, after two years of cancellations forced by the Corona virus crisis. The first Norway Cup was held in 1972, so this week’s tournament is also marking its 50th anniversary. “It’s a football festival in 2022, and we will together find our way back to the joys of sports and fellowship,” stated cup managers as festivities kicked off during the weekend. “We have high ambitions for the tournament and want to create good experiences and memories for life.”
More than 30,000 football players aged six to 19 from around 1,850 teams, 60 of them from abroad, will take part in 5,000 matches this week. Most of the play will take place on the plateau at Ekeberg, an eastern hillside in Oslo, where as many as 80,000 visitors are expected each day. Matches will also play out on a total of 89 football fields in the Norwegian capital.
Security was high because of heightened threat levels in Norway, after a mass shooting in Oslo in late June. Several top politicians and celebrities will also be visiting Norway Cup through the week, with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre once again due to play in a match himself on Wednesday.
There will also be matches involving a newly formed team of young Ukrainians whose families have fled Russian attacks on their homeland. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that several of the players have no experience on the field but the goal was to get the kids out of their refugee center, activate them outdoors and introduce them to others their own age. The team, called Ukrainian United, will also be the subject of a feature film. One of the players admitted she’d never played football but enjoyed the opportunity to be outdoors and feel free and safe.
“We will have highly visible police on duty, they’ll be armed and will represent an effort to create feelings of safety and a preventive profile,” Harald Nilssen of the Oslo Police told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He insisted it was safe for the tournament to proceed “at perhaps one of the safest places in Oslo right now.”
Nilssen said he could understand that some parents may be a bit anxious about sending their children to the tournament, “but we’ll be having a sports party here, and it will be safe and secrur for those who are here. The police are responsible for that.”
Norway Cup’s enthusiastic secretary general Pål Trælvik was also reassuring, telling NRK that “up here we’re very protected from everything that has to do with noise or tension or uncomfortable events. We are well-prepared.”