Footballers on ice

Weekly Cover | The beautiful game faces ugly conditions in Greenland. Communities are trying to do something about that, but it will take an international change of heart for the country to achieve its ultimate goal

Acres of space, just very little of it up to Fifa snuff

With the eyes of the world firmly locked on the Brazilian tropics and its exquisite beaches, it might be easy to forget that in the cold North, far away from the Copacabana, football burns with the same passion as it does in Rio.

Footballers playing in the World Cup are currently fighting the heat in areas like Maracana, but in Greenland the task has a very different guise, says John Thorsen, the head of the GBU, Greenland’s football association.

“Those of us who work with football in Greenland face some very unique challenges. There are no road connections between our towns, so each one of them is like an island.”

He also says that the season, short under the best of conditions, is heavily dependent on the weather.

“It only lasts from May or June to September or October, depending on whether we have an early spring, which is rare, or an early autumn, which is often.”

SEE VIDEO: The Forbidden Team: Tibet plays Greenland in its first ever international match (at end of article)

Playing football under such conditions is far from easy and the short summers mean that grass pitches are a luxury. Instead, footballers have to turn to other solutions – and surfaces.

Throughout the years most of the games have been played on gravel pitches that tear clothes and bruise skin, with the exception of the fortunate footballers of Qaqortoq, in southern Greenland, where the country’s only artificial-surface pitch is located.

Or was. Because yesterday, the town of Maniitsoq christened an artificial pitch of its own, and soon Nuuk, the capital city, may follow suit. There, city officials have started discussing the possibility of building a large indoor pitch, which would allow football to be played all year round, regardless of the weather.

“Local and national politicians are waking up and have started to recognise what the GBU and football enthusiasts have been clamouring for. The country needs artificial-surface pitches. In fact the issue has never been as discussed as now,” Mr Thorsen says.

Earlier this year, parliament discussed whether to set aside funding for such pitches, but the debate took on a new dimension last month when Variétes Club du France, a French celebrity team, played two games in Greenland.

Despite inclement (okay, horrible) weather, the two teams played, but it was on a pitch that one of the French players later described as the worst he’d ever seen.

Infrastructure, though, is just one sore point for the GBU. On several occasions the association has applied for membership in Fifa and Uefa, the sport’s international and European governing bodies. Each time it has been turned down.

“We can easily admit that becoming a Fifa member is one of the biggest dreams we have for football in Greenland,” Mr Thorsen says.

Fifa has given many different reasons for denying Greenland membership, such as the lack of regulation grass pitches and the need to be an independent state.

“When we in GBU pointed out that the Faroe Islands was both a Fifa and Uefa member and not independent, the reply was that they had been accepted shortly before those rule went into effect. But then Uefa grants membership to Gibraltar, which is not independent, and that is just incomprehensible.”

Until Greenland is granted membership in Fifa and Uefa, it must content itself with participating in second-tier tournaments, such as the Island Games, which are held every two years. But for a football nation like Greenland, which closely follows major international leagues, not being able to play in major tournaments feels like constant relegation.

“Football is by far the most popular sport in Greenland and that interest has been very constant for many, many years,” Mr Thorsen says. “As towns get satellite TV stations and people can start watching foreign leagues, much of the wintery evenings get spent watching football. The most popular ones are the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, and in Nuuk you can hear a convoy of cars driving around, honking their horns, every time the club they support wins the title.”

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

The Weekly Cover is The Rasmussen’s main story of the week. These articles will sometimes look ahead at one of the more important or interesting topics of the coming week, or they may provide insight and analysis about a current issue.

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