Bolt roadshow touches down in Oslo

Usain Bolt's pre-Olympic European roadshow touches down in the Norwegian capital on Thursday, the Jamaican track star aiming to ratchet up the pressure on pretenders to his double sprint crowns.

Bolt roadshow touches down in Oslo
Usain Bolt takes the Airport Express Train in to Oslo (Photo: Fredrik Varfjell/Scanpix).

Bolt, the reigning Olympic 100 and 200m champion and world record holder in the two events, rebounded from a heavy-legged 10.04sec in the 100m in Ostrava with a blistering 9.76sec in last week's Diamond League meet in Rome.

"I never doubt my ability, never. People forget, and I keep explaining to people, that athletes have bad days," the 25-year-old said of his outing in the Czech Republic, which he still managed to win despite posting the slowest 100m time of his senior career, albeit in cold, blustery conditions.

"Every athlete can – cricket, football, any sport – you have bad days and that was just one of mine and I got past it and now I'm just moving forward."

Bolt has seen compatriots Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake and American Justin Gatlin emerge as his closest rivals this season, and says the fact that the trio are also running fast was good not only for him but the sport as a whole.

"The season is still early. Everybody is running 9.8 so that's good competition. 9.7 is also good for me," he said.

"I'm happy with the way it is and just want to continue working hard and run faster so I'm looking forward to it. I'm ready to go."

He added: "I will run my best and give the audience what they came here for.

"It was a good duel between Powell and me in Rome and I know that he is strong in the start. It is about technique and execution, so this will not be a problem on Thursday."

Powell, the former world record holder who has dipped under the 10sec mark close to 80 times, will also be on the blocks at Thursday's Bislett Games for his second race against Bolt in seven days.

Another star of the track will go in the 5,000m: Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the reigning Olympic 5,000 and 10,000m champion who is battling to rediscover
his world-beating form after injury.

Bekele struggled in his season-opening 3,000m in Doha last month, only finishing seventh, and he faces a tall order here, always a target for a slew of compatriots such as Imane Merga and Sileshi Sihine.

He improved to finish fourth in Eugene on Saturday, but was still more than three seconds off Briton Mo Farah's winning time.

The famed Dream Mile will feature a familiar clutch of Ethiopians and Kenyans, led by world indoor bronze medallist Mekonnen Gebremedhin, Eugene 1,500m winner Asbel Kiprop, also the Olympic champion, and Daniel Komen.

Australian world champion Sally Pearson will make her long-awaited European debut after choosing to remain in her native country for the early part of the season after also clinching the world indoor 60m hurdles title in March.

She faces a tough outing in the 100m hurdles against American duo Danielle Carruthers and Lolo Jones, Canadians Phylicia George and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, as well as US-born Briton Tiffany Porter.

British heptathlete Jessica Ennis will also compete in her bid to sharpen up for the multi-discipline event.

Pearson, who claimed the world title in Daegu last year and was named the 2011 women's athlete of the year, said she would arrive in Europe confident in her training to date and what lies on the road ahead before her bid to win gold in London in early August.

"It's going to be a smashing field in Oslo. So many of the girls are running because it provides a chance to run heats and then a final. It will be really exciting."

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Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”