Sweden’s Sörenstam wins season-opener in Hawaii

Swedish star Annika Sörenstam had plenty of spark in her debut, by posting a three-under 69 Saturday to capture the season-opening SBS Open at Kahuku in Hawaii.

“I could not have asked for a better start,” Sorenstam said. “We all have talked so much about 2007. I think it’s time to talk about 2008.”

It was the 70th LPGA Tour title for Sörenstam, who was winless in 2007 and was limited to 13 events due to back and neck injuries.

It was the first year since 1994 Sörenstam failed to win a tournament.

Sörenstam, who was making her first appearance in this $1.1 million event at Turtle Bay, finished at 10-under 206 and won by two strokes over Thailand’s Russamee Gulyanamitta, Laura Diaz and Jane Park.

“I’m obviously very, very thrilled. It’s great to win tournaments. There’s some tournaments that mean a little bit more and they come at a special time. I would say this is one of them, as you know for many reasons,” Sörenstam said.

Erica Blasberg, who was tied with Sörenstam for the lead entering the final round, stumbled to a two-over 74 and finished five strokes adrift.

Defending champion Paula Creamer closed with a 69 and finished at four-under 212.

Sörenstam turned it on when needed, overcoming her lone bogey on the 11th hole with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 before wrapping up the championship with a par on the 18th.

“It was huge,” Sörenstam said of her birdie putt on the 17th hole.

“It was one of those putts that I’m going to remember for a long time. I mean, it’s nice to have a one-stroke lead going into 18.

“But to have two especially when it’s a par-five, a lot of players had birdies. Coming back like this, it’s nice to have a little extra cushion. So that was key.”

In her final 32 holes of the tournament, Sörenstam recorded 10 birdies against just the one bogey. She earned $165,000 for the win.

Sörenstam said she wanted this tournament more than any other in the past year.

“Last year, the desire wasn’t there,” Sörenstam said. “And my swing was definitely not there.

“Now it is. And, like I said, those are two important components you need to play well and to be the top player out here.”

Russamee, of Rayong, had four birdies in her bogey-free 68 while Diaz and

Park each were hurt by a costly double-bogey on the front side.


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.”