Women's football going from strength to strength in the Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands have their first full-time national team coach with a UEFA Pro Licence
The Faroe Islands Football Association (FSF) is benefiting from FIFA’s support
FIFA.com spoke to the FSF’s women’s football development officer Maria Ziskason Nesa
Almost 53,000 people live on the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. This group of 18 islands in the North Atlantic boasts 1,289 kilometres of coastline and offers visitors dramatic landscapes.
What these simple facts do not reveal, however, is the popularity of women’s football on the Faroes. Some 30 per cent of all registered players are female. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the global average is 14 per cent and that this figure is lower still in Europe at 11 per cent.
"We are very proud of our high participation rate," said Maria Ziskason Nesa, who is responsible for women’s football development at the Faroe Islands Football Association (FSF). "Ten to 11 per cent of the entire population play football, and one-third of our players are female – so we already have a high participation rate and we are very proud of that," she explained.
"Having said that, we need more people to engage with the women’s game, as that’s one of the key elements for growth. While we need more players, we also need more coaches and people to get involved in leadership. Right now we have 1,900 registered female players – girls and women. That’s a lot given our tiny population. But because we are such a small country, we really need all hands on deck to produce results."
The Faroes have already taken a step in the right direction. With financial support from FIFA, they appointed their first full-time women’s national team coach with a UEFA Pro Licence at the start of 2021. In addition to her role as head coach, Lene Terp also works closely with Ziskason Nesa and local clubs.
"Lene is available to clubs to join them for training sessions, mentor coaches and give advice on running training sessions for girls," explained the former sports journalist. "We’ve never had that capacity before, and we’ve never had a female coach with a Pro Licence. In that way she is a big role model for female coaches," Ziskason Nesa explained, reiterating the important message that Terp’s appointment sent out to the public.
"She has already been active as an instructor for our own coaching education courses. We just had a course with 19 women going through what we call B2 and B3. That’s a massive step for us as well, for these female coaches to see someone they can actually mirror or view as a role model, or who enables them to see themselves as a valuable part of the coaching community. On the one hand, it’s vital for them to see someone they can emulate, but it’s also hugely important that female players, coaches and women in general are accepted within the mainstream football community," Ziskason Nesa said.
"It’s important for our male coaches to see a female coach coming into the game, take her seriously and see that she can bring something new to the table and perhaps teach them some new perspectives – and vice versa. That equal relationship between female and male coaches is hugely valuable too. I get really excited when I see Lena coaching a boys’ team and seeing U-15 and U-17 boys looking at her, taking advice from her and being coached by her. That gives them an idea and the understanding that women have a place in football."
However, Ziskason Nesa believes that it is not just important for others to respect female players and coaches, but that these players and coaches must also respect themselves and believe in their own abilities. "When a big organisation like FIFA takes us seriously, we need to take ourselves seriously too," she explained succinctly.
"Sometimes it can be hard for girls in the Faroe Islands to understand why they should prioritise football. Players here can’t make a living from the game. If it comes down to a choice between education and a job versus football, they’ll choose the education and job every time because it makes more sense to them," Ziskason Nesa said.
"Football is a hobby and something fun to do. They don’t believe that it’s something to put everything into and sacrifice everything to pursue. They see that it’s possible in the wider world to make a career out of football and to actually become a professional footballer, coach or referee, but we don’t have those role models in the Faroe Islands – yet. We’re trying to create them, nurture more women in coaching and encourage ambitious female players to go abroad and try to make a living from football. That could create a path for others to follow."
Don’t listen to me because I’m a woman. Listen to me because you think I’m actually qualified to talk about football.
FIFA's support at a glance
FIFA Women’s Development Programme: The FSF applied for support to promote the women’s game. This support was approved and provided in 2020
At the end of August 2021, Karl Lines led the "Developing skills for administrators" workshop
FIFA Coach Education Scholarships: The Faroe Islands are one of 25 member associations to have benefited from this programme so far Images courtesy of the Faroe Islands Football Association
Images courtesy of the Faroe Islands Football Association