In my home country Norway people say that ‘Norway Cup’ is the world’s largest football tournament for children and youth. That’s half fake news, say others. The Swedish ‘Gothia Cup’ in Gothenburg, and also the Danish ‘Dana Cup’ in Hjørring in North Jutland, have more foreign teams participating, and that is statistically proven. When the Norwegians say they have more participating teams than the Swedes that is true, but only if one counts teams with very young players, not just the main group of 9-19 year olds, but all the way from age 6. In any case, there are 30-40,000 participants in these tournaments and up to 2,000 teams in each. Indeed good enough!

This week, the ‘serious football fun’ is at its peak in Oslo, from 27 July-3 August, with Pakistani teams, too, including clever young girls, and boys from deprived backgrounds. Norway Cup has had girls’ teams since the beginning in 1972; and there were teams from slum areas in the Kenyan and Tanzanian capitals. The legendary leader Frode Kyvåg (b. 1945) was ‘Mr. Norway Cup’, or ‘Norway Cup General’, till he in 2015 had to let go of it after 39 years, with numerous awards and honorary titles. He was controversial, too, and there is crisp debate about how to continue it all.

Norwegians and indeed the Oslo inhabitants remain proud of it, and so do I. I moved to Oslo in 1973 and lived just a block away from Bislett Stadium, the most famous sports arena for the most prestigious summer and winter sports in the land, indeed speed skating in winter. What I remember in particular during the Norway Cup week every year in late July-early August, is that residents and visitors had to forget to find any parking spaces in the streets around Bislett. In the long Scandinavian summer afternoons and evenings, the streets and pavements were crowded with excited children and youth – and proud and a bit worried couches, parents, elder siblings, friends and relatives. Where I lived on Wilhemsgate Street, we could walk out on our balconies, as indeed old and young did, almost feeling that we were taking part the festivities, breathing in a bit of the atmosphere, the sights and sounds of the fun and the serious matches at the arena. To be precise, few matches would be at the downtown Bislett Stadium, as most activities would take place at the huge and open Bækkelaget Sportsklubb’s grounds at Ekeberg.

This year, Oslo is hot and last weekend they had to cancel some matches and give rules and advice for intake of enough water – and Coke. There are cultural events, sight-seeing tours to the Royal Palace, and much more. Most important, the youngsters make new friends and meet people from near and far, including from Pakistan, Kenya, and many other foreign countries, as well as from all over Norway and the Nordic countries. Pakistani kids come home with great stories to tell, and some just to keep in their hearts.

In 2010, Norway Cup’s own melody was performed for the first time. It is entitled ‘We live; we love’, made by D’Sound. It was also used at the memorial ceremonies after the 22 July 2011 massacre in Oslo and at Utøya Island, when 77 people, many members of the youth-wing of the Labour Party, were killed and injured by the extremist right-wing Nazi sympathiser Anders Behring Breivik. He is now serving life imprisonment for the terrible unprecedented crimes.

The broader values of events like Norway Cup cannot be overstated, naturally from a sports perspective, and some players, such as Erik Mykland, John Carew and Ole Gunnar Solskjær, became famous later; Solskjær is now the Manager of Manchester United, needless to mention since sports enthusiasts all over the world know about that humble and determined Norwegian.

I was never a great sportsman myself; I was keener on social and pedagogical studies an actions. Thus, I would underline the broader aspects of tournaments like Norway Cup. I would like to see more such tournaments in Norway, Pakistan and in other countries. They can be similar events, not identical, not clones and copies. But they can the Scandinavian coups for inspiration in order to make their own, local events. In Scandinavia and Pakistan, such events can also help develop a sense of pride of own country and local communities, own values and traditions that are unique, at the same time as interest is created for learning from others. Alternative ‘fusion events’ can be developed, such as sports combined with traditional music, literature, theatre performances, or some entirely new Muslim ideas. Most important, children and youth should learn to feel confident and believe in themselves, and help others do the same. Nothing is more important for young people!

Behind sports tournaments, summer camps, travels and explorations of many types, there a key foundation and outcome, notably that we help each person and group to be enthusiastic about what they do. They should feel self-confident, even when they lose a match, knowing they did their best. Indeed, they must learn to feel happy when they help fellow team members, and competing ones, to do their best. They would make friends with others without heed to the scoreboards in the matches.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I began travelling to East Africa, doing studies and fieldwork in Tanzania and Kenya. I came from one of the world’s richest countries, but luckily, I had been taught that we all have a duty to try to feel compassion for others, indeed those who have little earthly wealth but the same dreams as those on top of the GDP ladder. I learned that we must talk about the need for social and economic change, how to create greater equality – even if we in practice may do very little to make it happen. The least we must do is to show respect for others, tell others when they are great, often much better than we would ever be. True, we must live and behave so that we can also be proud of ourselves – in the midst of an unjust world.

I believe that Norway Cup can remind us of the importance of good values. Through exposure, children and youth can be helped to see that they have to build a better world, with more equality, more compassion, and deeper respect for all human beings. When people meet and exchange views with others, they realize how much alike all human beings are – be it a young, middle-class boy from Sweden and another one from Pakistan; a young girl from Argentina and another one from Nigeria; a group of kids from the Gilgit mountains and another group from the shores of the Mauritius islands. Even if religions are different, and the cost of the sneakers vary, the youngsters in Norway Cup, and in Pakistani cricket events, realize that they are all very much alike, that they can learn from each other and have fun together, dream together and find new solutions – for better local communities and a more peaceful world.