2001 Nobel Prize nominees includes some surprises

OSLO - What do Fidel Castro, the sport of football, an American on death row and the founder of the Falun Gong sect all have in common?

Believe it or not, all have been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, to be awarded on October 12.

While UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is rumoured to be the favourite for the prestigious prize this time around, some of the nominations on the list of 136 candidates are not what one would normally expect.

Take, for example, football. Swedish member of parliament Lars Gustafsson nominated the sport and its world governing body FIFA, arguing that "remarkable events which have established good ties between peoples can be attributed to football."

Apparently he has never heard of hooliganism.

And a Norwegian member of parliament, Hallgeir Langeland, has proposed that Cuban President Fidel Castro, who came to power in a 1959 revolution that claimed 5,000 lives, receive the award.

"What do people prefer? The right to vote or easy access to schools, health care, housing and food, as is the case in Cuba," he said.

Another unlikely winner is Stanley "Tookey" Williams, convicted of four murders and now on death row awaiting execution.

His name was proposed by Mario Fehr, a Swiss member of parliament opposed to capital punishment.

Meanwhile, a large international campaign was undertaken to nominate Li Hongzhi, the founder of the Falun Gong sect, who now lives in exile in the United States after China banned the movement in 1999 and issued an arrest warrant for him.

While Li is seen as having little chance at winning the prize, Beijing has already stressed that it is "adamantly opposed to the use of the Nobel Peace Prize for political means."

The list of candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize is always a tightly-guarded secret, but those eligible to nominate candidates are allowed to publicly announce their choice.

Thousands of people around the world are entitled to put forward nominations, including former laureates, members of parliament and government of all countries, certain university professors and members of the Norwegian Nobel committee.

For next year's prize, US President George W Bush has already been nominated by a group of Norwegian university professors, but on one unusual condition - that his response to the terrorist attacks on the United States does not start a war.