Dealing with attention

While I have been away in London some of the major stories have matured a bit. For updates on the swine flu in Norway, and the battle between the government and business tycoon Kjell Inge Røkke, do visit Nina Berglund’s Views and News from Norway, for the closest thing to Aftenposten’s former News in English service.

On Tuesday Norway was examining itself after winning the election for one of the three ‘Western European and Other States’ seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council, ahead of Belgium and the USA. The first person to ask to assess this honor was naturally Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

What was particularly nice about his reaction was that it came across as honest, sensible and surprisingly down-to-earth. While reporters must have been expecting to learn about the prestige the post bestowed, Gahr Støre wittily replied that it really meant ‘ a lot of hard work’.

On the more predictable front, he put a ban on torture and a special focus on people who were refugees in their own homeland as top priorities for the position, and thanked the diplomatic corps for the efforts they had made in promoting Norway’s candidacy.

Gahr Støre consistently tops the government’s most highly rated minister polls, and is viewed as a potential future PM. He remains effective, professional and best of all, responds to questions clearly and with lucidity, in high contrast to colleagues caught in the grip of the spreading epidemic of evasion, waffling and double-talk taking hold of Norwegian politics.

The continuing saga of football referee Tom Henning Øvrebø provided a golden opportunity for navel-gazing. As UEFA keeps him silent and weighs possible punishment for star Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, who went menacingly berserk after the Norwegian man in black refused to grant the London squad any of a number of penalties in their Champions League semifinal, Øvrebø’s stock has begun to rise.

As the days go by and the emotion of the night fade, more reasoned discussion of Øvrebø’s performance, and of the outrageously poor sportsmanship of the Chelsea squad, have come to the fore, making the shaven-headed Norwegian a real international conversation piece rather than just a target of abuse and ridicule. This means that all sorts of media attention is given to things Øvrebø, including an Internet game where Drogba slaps him around.

A wonderful convergence of Norwegian international concerns appeared in stories claiming that Eurovision Song Contest favorite Alexander Rybak might be the true victim of Øvrebø’s night of infamy in London. Citing the Daily Star, various Norwegian publications carried a story about disgruntled Chelsea fans who will avenge the absence of their team from the Champions League final … by voting out Norway’s finalist hope Rybak.

Øvrebø, a psychologist, appears to be taking the fuss well, and will be back in action in Norway’s Premier League already this weekend. In the meantime, the head of referees with Norway’s Football Association announced that Øvrebø and his assistants will now become textbook material for future Norwegian whistleblowers. Their performance and ordeal will be used to prepare budding referees for the pressures and demands of top-flight football.

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