Soccer Success Feeds Faroes' IOC Dreams

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(WFI) The Faroe Islands may not have qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But as a member of FIFA and UEFA, they at least had the opportunity to do so.
Soccer pitch in the Faroes (ATR)

The self-governing region of Denmark wants that same chance when it comes to the Olympics.

The Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee (FCSOC) launched its latest campaign to get into the Olympics earlier this year. If it succeeds, it would be the culmination of an ambition that is 40 years old. It could also mean that sports other than soccer might flourish in the islands.

The Faroes have been a member of FIFA for 30 years, joining UEFA two years later. The relationship has meant that soccer has blossomed as the dominant sport. In 2016, 10.6 percent of the Faroes’ population of about 50,000 were registered soccer players with 70 percent of boys at the under-12 level playing the game.

The reason is simple. Soccer, or football, is the one sport where a budding Faroese athlete can perform at the highest level of international competition.

Jens Martin Knudsen was the goalkeeper for the Faroe Islands when the team, in its first competitive international, defeated Austria 1-0 in September 1990 in a massive upset. The game was played in Sweden because there were no grass pitches in the Faroes.

Knudsen says his favorite sport was handball but when the Faroes joined FIFA and UEFA “it was very, very easy to choose to go that way”.
Jens Martin Knudsen and Atli Gregersen (ATR)

Atli Gregersen is the current captain of the Faroes national football team. He was a table tennis champion but that wasn’t where he ultimately ended up.

“It’s like when you’re 15 and you’re good at several sports and obviously you’re going to pick the one where you get the most challenges,” Gregersen says. “There are people who are better at table tennis or handball but they choose football.”

Gregersen says that even if most of those who choose football never become internationals at the top level, they can still go abroad to play a tournament.

“I think it’s a very, very big frustration,” Gregersen says. “Now we’re football men so we don’t feel it as much but when I see the table tennis guys playing when they’re 10 years old, they’re very good but the dream stops when they’re 14 because what’s the next step? They can’t compete.

“I imagine if we get the [IOC] recognition, which we should, that would give a major lift for the other sports.”

Gregersen admits that IOC recognition “probably would be difficult for our sport” since there would be options other than soccer for Faroese athletes to pursue at the highest level. But he’s okay with that.

FCSOC Would Benefit from IOC Recognition

If the FIFA/UEFA relationship with the Faroes is any guide, recognition by the IOC will also mean the FCSOC will grow exponentially.

National soccer stadium in Torshavn (ATR)
In 1989, the Faroe Islands Football Association had a corner office in a small building that still houses the Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee (FCSOC). Now the football association's multi-story offices are in the nearby national football stadium in the capital of Torshavn. The venue, opened in 1999, is currently undergoing a $40 million renovation that is expected to be completed in February 2021.

“Since becoming members of FIFA, especially UEFA because we are a lot closer with UEFA, they are really demanding of us,” says Kristin Dam Ziska, deputy general secretary of the football association. “I think they are better at seeing our needs than we are ourselves and then they push us how we can develop football in the Faroe Islands.

“If you look at how our activity is financed, it’s mainly through team rights that we have sold, then it’s financial support from UEFA, financial support from FIFA and then it’s the ticket sales and sponsorships. If you look at government support from the Faroe Islands, it’s a minor part of our finances.“

It doesn’t hurt that the Faroe Islands is becoming an increasingly difficult team to play. The Faroes managed six points in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, beating 2004 European champions Greece both home and away. That total improved to nine points for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The new UEFA Nations League, in which UEFA countries of similar stature compete against each other, is the way to qualify for the 2020 European Championship. The Faroes begin play this autumn in a group that includes Azerbaijan, Kosovo and Malta. Should the Faroes win the group, they would move on to the next round of qualification.

Knudsen believes that the success of football shows that all the Faroes need is a chance, like the one FIFA and UEFA gave them.

“The possibility was shown to us and we took it all the way. If you have the possibility, we will find a way.”

The Faroes want the IOC to finally give them their opportunity at the Olympic dream.


By INSIDER Gerard Farek

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