Football matches are not usually places where I would look for like-minded people. But watching a televised debate on Norway’s proposed boycott of FIFA’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar has completely changed my mind.
There are two things that the typical Italian loves to argue about: football and politics. Despite being an Italian living in Norway, I must admit I’m not really into the former, yet I was still planning on watching the Italy-Wales Euro 2020 game on 20 June. But I almost missed it due to a far more enthralling spectator sport involving Norway’s football federation.
That Sunday, Norway’s public news channel broadcast an extraordinary congress of the football federation on whether or not the national football team should boycott the 2022 event. The grassroots engagement was astonishing, and the debate went on for hours. As forecast by several commentators, the federation’s proposal of pursuing a softer approach won the majority of votes. The proposed boycott was voted down by 362 to 121.
Yet, the risk of a different outcome was very real, and the nervousness of the Norwegian Football Federation’s president, Terje Svendsen, was palpable. The federation put a huge effort into convincing the clubs that dialogue, combined with a structured push for reforms, would be far more effective in promoting change than pulling out of the tournament altogether.
But the Qatar debate was so enthralling, it oozed such passion and commitment, that I almost forgot to switch channels when the time came and the match kicked off.
Justice in all its splendour
After 13 years of living in Oslo, I must admit that I had never witnessed such fervent and impassioned exchanges.
It was as though the issue at stake was the very essence of being Norwegian: football clubs were not squabbling over sports, but rather human rights, and how despicable and hypocritical it would be to disregard any violation thereof in order not to displease the organisers or the host.
Norwegians tend to be rather softly spoken – they rarely express strong opinions or criticise each other. But this time they certainly did not beat about the bush.
Seeing football fans argue the case for banning their national team from joining an event which, after all, is the most prestigious in the world of football, was quite mesmerising. This was the epitome of idealism, live on TV!
A memory of a younger version of myself came back to me: one of the things that had made me want to settle down in Norway was the innate sense of justice and solidarity that I had attributed to Norwegians, yet which rarely materialised in daily life, leaving me deeply disappointed.
But here it was – in all its splendour. Criticism of FIFA from the delegates, who were representing 500 football clubs, was quite brutal. They accused the federation of “whitewashing human rights abuses”, “corruption”, “shying away from unwanted attention” and “only caring about money”.
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