In his young career, Erling Haaland has often attracted attention as a striker with the potential for world-class performances, but still rarely as an athlete with an opinion on socio-political issues or as a passionate rhetorician in general. His answers to the usual post-game interviews are mostly scarce, and references to his interests off the field in social networks have so far been of a rather trivial nature. In this respect, it is remarkable that Haaland, 20, together with his colleagues in the Norwegian national team, has shown a more courageous stance on one of the most important sport-political issues of the present than the entire football industry has so far – and has now also found its imitators in Germany’s national players Has.
“Human rights – on and off the pitch”, that was written in black on the white T-shirts that Norway’s national team wore before the 3-0 win against Gibraltar on Wednesday. It was the first day of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, and the words sent a message to the host country, which continues to be criticized for violating human rights. On Thursday an action by the German national team followed before the game against Iceland: “HUMAN RIGHTS”, one letter for each player in the starting eleven, was written in white letters on a black background on the T-shirts during the national anthem.
“We want to focus on the things that were discussed in advance, and the boys really wanted to do that too,” said Norway’s national coach Stale Solbakken. For him, “sport and politics are linked”, he explained, and sport is able to “send a message”. The coach had already announced that they wanted to put pressure on the world federation Fifa to act harder on Qatar. And this pressure is now possibly even greater due to the unannounced action by the Germans.
While the human rights organization Amnesty International stated in a new assessment at the beginning of the week that the positive reforms of the past few years in Qatar were “all too often inadequately implemented”, with the result that thousands of migrant workers “are still being exploited and abused”, FIFA usually emphasizes the “progress” initiated by the award in 2010. The DFB called the award of the tournament in the desert a problematic decision in many respects, but so far hid comfortably behind hardly meaningful favorite phrases such as the one to intensively discuss the human rights situation at the venue.
And now? Make two actions at least a little bit of hope for some movement in the matter. Also through the history of its origins. The Norwegians’ initiative, with all due respect, was not only due to the attitude of the players who put on their t-shirts. In Norway there has been talk for weeks about a possible World Cup boycott, which several top division clubs and many fans are now supporting. The boycott demand was initiated by club boss Öyvind Alapnes from the Tromsö IL club, who quickly found support. Norway’s national team wants to compete in Qatar if they qualify, but the footballers have accepted the debate.
In Germany it is parts of the fans who are calling for the boycott. And at least the national team didn’t ignore that.