‘Fifa has the biggest failing’ - how Norway plan to make a stand in Qatar

Norway manager gives his views on upcoming World Cup ahead of friendly in Dublin

Norway manager Stale Solbakken has spoken out against the staging of the World Cup in Qatar and says his country’s football association will continue to make its feelings known during the tournament.

Solbakken will not be attending the World Cup, and as a mark of protest the Norwegian Football Federation has decided that the only national team member in Qatar will be the analyst whose sole remit is to watch Spain, who Norway play in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier next March.

Speaking at the 72nd Fifa Congress last March, NFF president Lise Klaveness delivered a scathing rebuke of the decision to award Qatar the World Cup. Klaveness will travel to Doha for the World Cup where she is expected to use the opportunity to again express critical views. Solbakken believes the world, generally, has been too quiet and too slow in highlighting concerns on Qatar staging the competition.

“I think that first of all Fifa has the biggest failing, given the circumstances back when Qatar was given the tournament,” Solbakken said in Dublin, in advance of Norway’s friendly against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow night.


“That is obviously the biggest mistake. After that, I don’t think football has done enough, I don’t think journalists have done enough. I think you also have been asleep for a long, long time.

“I think it’s only in the last year that it’s suddenly, Oh the World Cup is in Qatar. The first years after it was given to Qatar I think the whole world was more or less asleep, including football people, and also journalists.”

Stephen Kenny will be flying to Doha and has explained his reasons attending the tournament, but Solbakken will not be in Qatar. Norway were one of the first football associations to take a stance.

“Our board has concluded that we are only sending one man to the World Cup and that is our analyst who will watch Spain in those three games. Otherwise, no one else will travel down and watch the games,” he stated.

“I think our president, Lise, will travel but not to see the games and not to watch football, but to make another stand on the political side of it.

“I think nobody is comfortable with it. The teams that are going there, obviously a player’s main issue should be to play football and for the coach it is to coach the team, but I think at the same time football political people have a great responsibility to make a stand that this kind of way of where certain World Cups should go, that you need to act in a certain way and you have to have equal rights for all human beings and that all people are treated well.”

Solbakken has also expressed frustration at the lack of proper discourse on the issue from football’s governing body. Fifa president Gianna Infantino addressed the G20 summit in Bali earlier this week, during which he called for dialogue to begin between Russia and Ukraine, and suggested the possibility of a temporary ceasefire during the World Cup.

“My personal concerns are obviously on the human rights issue and the Fifa democracy way of handling it, which has not been good,” added Solbakken.

“Now, coming close to the World Cup it is a little bit the same that the leaders of Fifa in many ways come up with some strange meanings: Let’s play football, let’s not focus on the other things. But at the same time trying to stop a war. So, it’s a little bit strange, the communication.”

On the football front, Solbakken is preparing for Thursday night’s friendly without Erling Haaland, who has not travelled to Dublin as part of the squad. It will possibly see Norway adopt a different approach against Ireland but Solbakken is viewing his star player’s absence as an opportunity for others to contribute up front.

“I don’t tell any other players that they should go in and play exactly the same as Erling,” he added.

“In the last qualification campaign, I think he only played four or five out of those 10 games. Now he has been very stable with us and played all the games this year, so we hope that will continue into the next qualification.

“But we must also be prepared that he can get injured and that we have to play without him. That can happen in a qualification game, so we need to make sure that we have players that can go into the roles, but play it in their own way and not rely on what Erling does or doesn’t do there.”

With 45,000 tickets already sold for the match, significantly so on the potential of seeing Haaland do his thing, Salbokken is expecting a vibrant atmosphere for what is a November friendly.

“I think Ireland are a very well coached side,” he said. “They have a high tempo in what they do. They are aggressive and they have individual players who can make the difference. Also with a full stadium it should be a little bit more than a private game.”

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times