Klüft triumphant in Helsinki title chase

Olympic champion Carolina Klüft of Sweden retained her heptathlon world title at the World Atheletics Championships in Helsinki on Sunday, seeing off French arch-rival Eunice Barber in a thrilling sprint finish in the final event, the 800m.

The 22-year-old ended with a total of 6887 points, 63 ahead of Barber (6824) while Margaret Simpson of Ghana took bronze with 6375 points in the multi-discipline event.

With her left ankle heavily strapped, a grimacing Klüft outpaced the valiant Barber down the home straight of the 800m to the rapturous delight of the Finnish crowd that have adopted the Swede as one of their own.

The race was won by British Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton, but her impressive run was not enough for her to move from fifth in the overall standings after her dismal performances earlier in the day in the long jump and javelin.

“I had a really great experience here and Eunice is a fantastic competitor,” said Klüft.

“After the accident in training, I thought what would happen. But this has given me hope to do even better in the future once I am injury free.”

In the opening event of the day, the long jump, Klüft and Barber both recorded season’s bests of 6.87 and 6.75m respectively.

Klüft’s best came on her first attempt in an all-or-nothing jump that saw her narrowly miss being red-flagged.

The France team lodged a protest, complaining that the jump should not have been allowed for a foul on the take-off board.

After reviewing the evidence, the IAAF’s Jury of Appeal determined that the event judges had made the correct decision and the protest was dismissed.

The result saw the Swede squash Barber’s two-point overnight lead after the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200m and regain top spot by 38 points.

But Barber, the 1999 world champion, cut back that deficit to just 18 points after the javelin, in which she threw 48.24m to Kluft’s 47.20m, albeit a season’s best for the Swede.

In the overall standings before the 800m, Klüft was top on 5906, followed by Barber on 5888 and Simpson in third on 5511.

The 23-year-old Ghanaian, bronze medallist in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, recorded a personal best of 56.36m in the javelin to overtake Sotherton, who will regret a day when she failed to perform to the best of her abilities.

Sotherton finished in fifth place overall behind Lithuania’s Austra Skujyte, whose season’s best of 48.82m in the javelin ensured her a healthy finish.



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.”