At over 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, life in Tromsø is pretty cold.

Established over 200 years ago, its alpine charm and long, harsh winters seem like an entirely different world when compared to Qatar – home of the ever-nearing 2022 Football World Cup.

Despite this, Tromsø IL – the world’s northernmost football club, has something to say about their distant neighbours – and they’ve done so in a pretty revolutionary way.

 

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The team has created a brand new jersey set to debut this Sunday. Apart from looking pretty great, it also contains a QR code that redirects users to information about Qatar’s alleged human rights violations.

 

Why Did the Jersey Come About?

To begin with, criticism against Qatar is nothing new in the world of sports – this isn’t even Tromsø IL’s first time taking on the wealthy, skyscraper-laden World Cup location.

While cities like Doha offer glittering metropolises (and football stadiums) for tourists to explore, all the opulence comes at a very human price.

Qatar has a long-running history of bringing in migrant workers from nations such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh/ Many of these workers are allegedly subjected to inhumane working and living conditions, along with coercive and punitive tactics to keep them in line, such as withholding passports and other necessary documents.

Most recently, this was highlighted in Amnesty International’s detailed report, called ‘Reality Check 2021’. The 48-page report explains various details of the exploitative labor system – an issue that has drawn the eye of thousands of football fans as well.

While Qatar has announced reforms, it has done so barely a week before it was exposed by a Human Rights Watch report.

 

How does it Work?

Perhaps as a byproduct of the last two years of social distancing, QR codes have simply skyrocketed in popularity. From paying bills to accessing web content, they’ve quickly become a key landmark of modern culture – and the perfect vehicle for subtle, informed social change.

The idea is simple – the jersey’s sleeves have a QR code printed onto them, which can be quickly scanned with a smartphone.

On doing this, you get redirected to a website highlighting Amnesty’s research into the plight of workers in Qatar and the phenomenon of sportswashing – using big-name sports events to cover up deeper issues that a nation may face.

Who is Behind it?

While it’s hard to point at a single name here – after all, human rights activism is a team effort – we believe that the story starts with a certain former Norwegian center-back, named Tom Høgli.

 

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Høgli played for Tromsø between the ‘07 and ‘11 seasons – bagging a Defender of the Year award in the process. His story of speaking against Qatar’s treatment of its labor force, however, began a few years later, during his massively successful stint playing for FC Copenhagen in the Danish league.

In 2016, he chose to publicly criticize the nation for these issues, calling it an example of ‘modern day slavery’. Following news of multiple worker deaths, he and Tromsø IL joined forces to make an official club statement, aiming to instate a nation-level boycott of the 2022 World Cup.

Høgli is now the club’s PR chief, and made a clear statement to the media while presenting the jersey.

“By doing this, we hope to spark more discussions, more debate. We want to see more action.”

To actually create and design the outfit, Tromsø partnered with Kenyan blogger, activist, and ex-migrant worker, Malcolm Bidali. Here he is, sharing his message while modeling the jersey:

 

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Another key figure is club CEO Øyvind Alapnes. In a powerful statement to JOE, he said:

“Honestly, we didn’t think we could change the World Cup in Qatar,” Alapnes explains.

“In the end it was about making ourselves sleep good at night. We felt that we cannot arrange the greatest thing in football, the World Cup, on the grounds of dead people…”

 

Fan Response to the Qatar World Cup

Alapnes agrees that for the most part, the world has reacted positively to their activism. While many Norwegian football clubs have stood alongside Tromsø in solidarity, not every Norwegian has the same mindset.

For starters, this is still the world of football we’re talking about. While a social cause is a good reason for boycotting the World Cup, many Norwegians feel the sting of their 23-year absence from the great international tournament.

“The national team was quite good in the 1990s and I think people are feeling now that maybe Norway can copy that. We have Ståle Solbakken as the head coach, we have international stars like [Erling Braut] Haaland in the team which we haven’t had for a lot of years,” says Alapnes.

Ultimately, Alapnes and his club believe that while results are important, there are greater things to play for while on the pitch. We agree.

(Image Sources: FIFA, Tromsø IL)