Norwegians lead the fight for human rights

Norway’s National Soccer Team protests Qatar’s poor treatment of migrant workers

human rights

Photo: Geir Olsen / NTB
Norway superstar Martin Ødegaard leads the Norway national team.


The Norwegian national soccer team voiced their concerns about human rights in Qatar ahead of their World Cup qualifying games against Gibraltar, Turkey, and Montenegro.

According to The Guardian, 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have supposedly died building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

After the controversial selection in 2010, the Middle Eastern country launched an unprecedented building program, which included seven new stadiums, a new airport, roads, public transport, and hotels. To complete the project, it was uncovered that migrant workers were expected to put in a superhuman effort with few, if any, health and safety measures in place.

human rights

Photo: Aleksandar Djorovic / NTB
During the national anthem, players made a symbolic gesture in protest.

During the warm-up and up to their first game against Gibraltar, the Norwegian team wore T-shirts saying, “Human rights—on and off the pitch,” to spotlight Qatar’s poor treatment of migrant workers. Before their game against Turkey three days later, they went a step further, asking other teams to join the protests. 

The Netherlands followed with their own T-shirts that stated, “Football supports change,” while the German team lined up in black shirts, each with one white letter to spell out “Human rights.” On March 28, the Danish national team wore T-shirts inscribed with “Football supports change,” and a poll revealed that 44% of the Danish populace favors a boycott, as do some teams in Norway’s Eliteserien, reported NTB.

The end goal of the protests does not seem to be a boycott of the championship. Both the Norwegian and the German Football Association have stated that they are against a boycott, but they feel the need to highlight the issues than can be improved.

Photo: Geir Olsen
New Norway national team manager Ståle Solbakken also wears a T-shirt in protest.

Norwegian coach Ståle Solbakken, who also wore a T-shirt, spoke about the protests in a live interview with TV2 after the Gibraltar match. “It’s about putting pressure on FIFA to be even more direct, even firmer with the authorities in Qatar, to impose stricter requirements,” he said.

This was Solbakken’s debut as a national team coach. He was appointed in December, when Lars Lagerbäck lost his job, as Norway failed to qualify for this summer’s European championship. Solbakken’s appointment has been met with enthusiasm in the Norwegian press, where most pundits and commentators agree that he is the right man to get the most out of Norway’s young soccer stars Erling Braut Haaland, 20, Martin Ødegaard, 22, and Sander Berge, 23, on the international stage and take Norway to their first international soccer championship participation in 21 years.

The newly assembled team seemed shaky, and it was obvious that they have had too little time together in the training ground, but they were able to get six out of nine possible points. Norway beat Gibraltar 3-0, March 24, lost 3-0 to Turkey, March 27, and won 1-0 against Montenegro, March 30, and are second in their qualifying group with six points, tied with Netherlands and Montenegro, one point behind Group G leader Turkey at seven.

Against Gibraltar, 25-year-old Alexander Sørloth (43’) and 22-year old Kristian Thorstvedt (45’) scored in the first half, and 28-year old Jonas Svensson (57’) in the second. Sørloth’s 35th minute goal was the game-winner against Montenegro. Sørloth has three goals in 24 games this season for RB Leipzig in Germany’s Bundesliga, and had 24 goals in 34 games for Trabzonspur in Turkey’s Super Lig in 2019-20. 

This article originally appeared in the April 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Jo Christian Weldingh

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.