Why is Norway’s football manager calling for people to vote against the government?

Norway's football manager, Stale Solbakken, has courted controversy by suggesting that people vote for a change in government ahead of the next election. Here's why.

Why is Norway's football manager calling for people to vote against the government?
Norway's manager Stale Solbakken. Photo by Jorge Guererro / AFP

Norway coach Stale Solbakken has caused controversy in the country by calling for people to vote against the government in the upcoming parliamentary elections over the strictness of its coronavirus rules.

Solbakken was angry that the 28,000-capacity Ullevaal Stadion could only be a quarter-full for Norway’s 1-1 draw with the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

The stadiums capacity was capped due to the Covid rules in Norway having limits on the numbers attending big events, even when the use of a vaccine certificate is in place. 

His team, who visit Latvia on Saturday and host Gibraltar next week, are also in the same qualifying group as Turkey. The nation goes to the polls on September 13.

“Today we played in front of 7,000 spectators who were fantastic but it could have been surreal here today,” he said after the game. “We will play in a ‘cathedral’ in Amsterdam in front of 60,000 people and in a stadium filled to the brim in Istanbul.

“I don’t want to waste time on this subject but it must be said: ‘We can do nothing other than vote in the legislative elections’.”

When asked by a journalist if he was hoping for a change of government, Solbakken said: “That is completely correct.”

The incumbent right-wing government is currently trailing the ‘red-green’ opposition in all opinion polls.

On Thursday, Minister of Health Bent Hoie told newspaper Verdens Gang he was “surprised and disappointed” by Solbakken’s remarks.

The government also announced an increase in the amount of spectators allowed to attend outdoor events, with 10,000 the new limit.

Former Wolves and FC Copenhagen coach Solbakken took charge of the Norwegian national team last December and was immediately fined for breaking quarantine rules.

Norway sit fourth in European qualifying Group G, but only one point behind leaders Turkey.

This isn’t the first time that politics and the national team have overlapped. Earlier this year Norway’s football association held a summit to decide whether it would boycott the 2022 Qatar World Cup over allegations of human rights abuses in the country. 

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Norway says it hasn’t breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

Norway is not breaching a century-old treaty covering the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard by blocking Russian cargo to the islands, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday after Moscow threatened retaliatory measures.

Norway says it hasn't breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

“Norway does not violate the Svalbard Treaty,” foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt told AFP. “Norway does not try to put obstacles in the way of supplies” to a Russian coal mining settlement in the area, she said, after Russia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Norway’s charge d’affaires over the issue.

Moscow accused Norway of disrupting the work of the Russian consulate general on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard but allows citizens of more than 40 countries to exploit the islands’ potentially vast resources on an equal footing.

Moscow has long wanted a bigger say in the archipelago — which it insists on calling Spitsbergen rather than the Norwegian Svalbard – which has been a haunt of its hunters, whalers and fishermen since the 16th century. The Svalbard Treaty handing sovereignty to Norway was signed in 1920.

Huitfeldt argued the shipment that was stopped at the Norwegian-Russian border “has been stopped on the basis of the sanctions that prohibit Russian road transport companies from transporting goods on Norwegian territory”.

Goods transport “does not have to go via mainland Norway by Russian truck”, she said, suggesting other solutions could be found to supply the mining community.

Svalbard was exempt from a ban on port calls by Russian-flagged vessels, “and we have clearly signalled our willingness to consider a dispensation from the flight ban”, the minister said.

The situation in the town of Barentsburg, home to the Russian miners, was “normal”, she said.

“Residents have access to food and medicine,” Huitfeldt said. “It is not Norwegian policy to try to force Russian companies or citizens away from Svalbard, or to put obstacles in the way of the business that takes place in accordance with Norwegian laws and regulations.

“At the same time, Norway’s necessary reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine may also have practical consequences for Russian companies on Svalbard, as in Norway in general,” Huitfeldt said.