The enthusiasm which football manages to generate the world over is unparalleled. Its popularity seemingly knows no bounds, including in Greenland, where over ten per cent of the 56,000 inhabitants enjoy playing – this despite the fact that the islanders have various obstacles to overcome.
The sheer size of the world’s largest island, which is 2,650 kilometres long and 1,000 kilometres at its widest, makes it almost impossible to organize a championship, since away matches would quite simply be a bridge too far for most teams in term of time and costs. The national league championship is held within the space of a few short weeks therefore and played in a modified format: five groups of eight teams take part in regional tournaments, with the best qualifying for two groups of four in the final tournament to vie for the title.
The distances involved may be a real hurdle, but they are nothing compared with the problems posed by the weather. Greenland has a polar and a sub-polar climate, with milder weather on the west coast thanks to the West Greenland Current. Gigantic ice deposits mean that only 410,000 square kilometres, or 19% of the total surface area, are ice-free, and even they are subject to strong winds and snow fall.
These extreme weather conditions mean that football can only be played outdoors in Greenland between the end of May and mid-September, on sand and ash pitches since it is impossible to grow grass. The good news is that a solution to one of these problems has been found. In September 2009 in the southern town of Qaqortoq, the country’s first ever artificial grass pitch was laid, the result of an initiative launched by the Danish Football Association (DBU) and financed by the FIFA Goal programme.
Goal Project makes history
The construction of this ultra-modern pitch cost around USD 500,000, with USD 400,000 covered by the Goal programme. “This new pitch is historic,” said Nuka Kleemann, president of the Greenland Sports Federation (GIF), “and we are eternally grateful to FIFA and to the DBU for their generous support.”
The inauguration of the venue, which is located in a picturesque rocky landscape, was also memorable, with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, on his first ever trip to Greenland, and DBU president Allan Hansen officially handing over the artificial pitch to Lars Lundblad, president of the Greenland Football Association, on Monday 13 September 2010.
“I am both proud and delighted to be here today to inaugurate this wonderful pitch,“ said Blatter, who had been given a rousing reception by the many locals who had come to see the inauguration and also the friendly match between two youth teams, which the FIFA President got under way. The local youngsters showcased their footballing skills, cheered on by the crowd which massed on the nearby rocks to enjoy an excellent view of the spectacular new facilities.
Lundblad was an emotional spectator at the match, as he underlined just how important the day had been. “Our thanks go to FIFA and to the Danish Football Association,” he said. “This is just what I always dreamed of. This is a unique moment and hopefully the beginning of a successful future. Young and old will be able to play here every day, and this will play a decisive role in promoting the development of football in our country.”
Allan Hansen, who had been in close contact with Lundblad for a number of years and had presented the project to FIFA along with his colleague Poul Gilling, head of the training and development department at the Danish FA, expressed similar hopes. “This fantastic artificial pitch will have a real say in how football in Greenland continues to develop,” the DBU president said. “This project is already a great success.”
The effects will be felt not only in footballing but also in social terms, as the town’s mayor Kristine Raahauge explained. "This incredible gift from FIFA and the DBU has already been a great success for our municipality. Local residents can play sport at any time now, and this has already helped us to reduce the crime rate. I hope that we will see more artificial pitches laid down in Greenland in the future.”