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Sweden’s Karlsson on track to claim prestigious golf honour

Sweden's Mr. Consistency, Robert Karlsson, will bid to become the first player from his country to win the European Order of Merit when he tees off in the season-closing Volvo Masters at Valderrama on Thursday.

The 39-year-old Ryder Cup star has enjoyed the finest year of his career to date and he is in pole position having racked up 12 top-10 finishes and won back-to-back tournaments this season in the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

His play in the four majors has also been exemplary having tied for eighth in the Masters Tournament, tied for fourth in the US Open Championship, tied for seventh in the British Open and tied for 20th in the US PGA Championship.

That has helped him amass total prize money of €2,695,248 ($3,447,490), nearly €300,000 ahead of second-placed Padraig Harrington.

The Irishman has had an even more spectacular year than Karlsson winning the British Open, where he was the defending champion, and the USPGA in a stunning few weeks in the summer.

To overtake Karlsson and succeed Justin Rose as Order of Merit winner, the 37-year-old Harrington, who also won the trophy in 2006, needs to finish first or second, on a course he is not comfortable on, and hope that the big Swede does not finish second.

The winner’s purse is €708,000.

Harrington, who was a teammate of Karlsson at the Ryder Cup in September, was quick to reject any suggestions that Karlsson would be an unworthy Order of Merit winner taking into account his own two wins in the majors that have propelled him to fifth place in the world rankings, one ahead of the Swede.

“At the end of the day, I haven’t played enough events to put myself out there,” he said.

“And in the events I played, I certainly didn’t show the form that I probably showed in the States this year. My best events definitely weren’t in Europe this year at all.

“I had a lot of top-five finishes in the States, but didn’t seem to have much form in Europe, and that’s why I’m not winning the European Order of Merit at the moment. Obviously, I need a big week this week.

“Robert has performed more consistently in Europe throughout the year, so consistency-wise, and that’s what an Order of Merit is, he probably deserves it.

“But that doesn’t mean he gets it. We have to wait until Sunday to sort that out.”

Lee Westwood of England and Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain are also still in with a chance of finishing the year as European number one, but their chances are remote as they have too much ground to make up on Karlsson.

Other issues at stake include finalizing the top 15 players on the Order of Merit who will secure a place in next year’s US Open at Bethpage in New York, while the top 30 also qualify for The Open at Turnberry.

SPORT

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.”

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