The Home of FIFA in Zurich welcomed guests from the far north of Europe on Thursday, 10 October 2012. Norwegian FA (NFF) president Yngve Hallen headed a delegation comprising members of the Olympic Committee, the Ministry for Commerce and the Nobel Peace Centre, which met FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter. The background to the visit was the partnership entitled 'Handshake for Peace' resolved at the FIFA Congress in Budapest.
The group also included two former international players who represented Norway at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ in the USA. Rune Bratseth and Jan-Age Fjortoft now represent the Norwegian Association in a variety of functions. The two former stars took time out for a chat with FIFA.com about their projects, and the current state of play in Norwegian football.
FIFA.com: What brings you both to Zurich today?
Jan-Age Fjortoft: The FIFA Congress in Budapest approved the 'Handshake for Peace', a partnership between FIFA and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo. Football can change the world, and we believe in that. Our new general secretary asked us to join his team because he wants to involve former players. Rune is on the Ethics Committee and I'm in charge of the overseas office. We wanted to introduce our new management to FIFA.
Rune Bratseth: I started work for the association in March and I’m hoping I can make a contribution to getting things done.
Jan-Age, you work closely with the Nobel Peace Centre. How did that come about?
Fjortoft: The Nobel Peace Centre is a Norwegian brand, but it’s recognised around the world, just like FIFA with its 209 member associations. The idea for the 'Handshake for Peace' arose from that. After a match the players shake hands as a matter of course, so we thought: why not adopt that as our symbol? Our president and the FIFA President won the approval of Congress for the idea. We aim to implement the plan everywhere together with FIFA. Your skin colour or religion doesn't matter in sport, and that should be football’s mission.
As former internationals you both closely follow the fortunes of Norwegian football. The national team plays Switzerland in Berne on Friday in a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. How do you think the game will go?
Fjortoft: It's vital we take something off the Swiss, although it's also important to give a good account of ourselves. Our national teams are also ambassadors for Norway. When we played Iceland, the media whipped up anxiety beforehand, and we promptly went and lost, although we then beat Slovenia next time out. But we know the Swiss are on an upward track.
Bratseth: Expectations in Norway aren't particularly high, but away from home against good opponents you don't have to dictate the play, so you come away as winners anyway provided you’re well-prepared tactically. I've been a little sceptical recently, but if the coach can instil the right attitude in his players, we have a good chance of taking at least a draw. The game with Switzerland is crucial. If we can turn in a decent performance, things could start going our way.
You both played for Norway at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA. What are your memories of the finals?
Bratseth: I have very, very good memories – of qualifying. We were in a group of death with England, the Netherlands, Turkey and Poland. We’d basically written off the World Cup as a bad job – and then we went and won the group, even finishing as top scorers. Unbelievable! When we got to the USA, we were let down by our lack of tournament experience. Otherwise we might have had a chance of progressing.
Fjortoft: For the two of us, this World Cup was an adventure that will bind us together for all time.
Norway haven’t qualified for a FIFA World Cup since 1998. What do you reckon are the chances of making it this time?
Fjortoft: The group is definitely manageable. Second place is realistic for us, and then maybe we could make it through the play-offs. For a country like Norway, qualifying for a World Cup or European championship is always the exception.
Bratseth: We need to nurture a new generation. Our U-21 national team looks very promising, as we have good players with plenty of belief. Hopefully they'll continue their positive development.