On the field, Saturday's upcoming exhibition soccer match in Oslo between Russia and Norway is expected to be a standard pre-World Cup friendly: One team that has qualified for the tournament (Russia) will be fine-tuning its starting lineup for Brazil, while the weaker team (Norway) hopes to gain experience before its players go on vacation for the rest of the summer.
Off the field, however, the match between the nations holds added significance, as it is the first time this year that the Russian national team will be playing abroad. And already there is controversy.
Earlier this week, the Football Association of Norway (NFF), hoping to avoid contention with Russia (with which it shares a 122-mile border), announced that political speech will be banned at the game and that only Norwegian and Russian flags would be allowed inside the stadium, noting that fans carrying the rainbow-colored flags associated with LGBT rights would not be allowed to attend. Of course, a ban like that only invites conflict, prompting a social media uproar in Norway.
On Friday, the NFF announced that it had bowed to public pressure and will allow fans to bring rainbow flags and wear rainbow t-shirts to Oslo's Ullevaal Stadion. Political messages supporting homosexuality or Ukraine will still be banned, though.
"At Ullevaal, it has been decided not to grant requests for demonstrations, because it is a sports event," the NFF said on its website. "Rainbow-coloured t-shirts are permitted. The same rule applies to flags of limited size."
It's unclear what constitutes "limited size," although a rainbow "tifo" the size of the one Russian fans unfurled in Warsaw at Euro 2012 probably wouldn't be allowed. (What a sight that would be!)
Norway itself is, according to its national tourism website, "generally speaking liberal towards the gay community." Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009, and Norway was the first country to make public threats against the LGBT community a crime (it did so in 1981).
Russia, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The government passed an anti-gay law in 2013 that bans "propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships." Rainbow flags were also banned during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, although at least one activist in Sochi did ignore the rule. She was detained.
FIFA matches may be famous for their pre-match "Say 'No' To Racism," public service announcements, but fans who want to "say 'no'" to homophobia — or to the alleged invasion of a sovereign country — are, according to these rules, out of line.