The Global Game: football in the Arctic Circle
Greenland not a member of FIFA or UEFA
Season only runs from May to September
When you think of Greenland, the first words that come to mind are usually "snow" and "ice". Yet despite its proximity to the North Pole, football does indeed exist in this country at the northern extremities of Europe.
In fact, more than ten per cent of Greenland’s 56,000 population play the game, despite having plenty of hurdles to overcome whenever they want to go about their favourite sport.
The sheer size of the world’s largest island, which is some 2,650 kilometres long and up to 1,000 kilometres wide, makes it simply impossible to run organised leagues. Travelling to away games would be too costly in terms of time and money for most teams, which is why the national championship is run within the space of a few weeks in a modified format.
Five regional tournaments are held, with eight teams progressing to a final tournament, with two groups of four then battling it out for the title.
An even greater challenge than the distances involved are the weather conditions. Greenland has a polar and sub-polar climate, tempered only by the West Greenland Current. Gigantic ice sheets mean that only 410,000 square kilometres – or 19 per cent of the country’s surface area – are free of ice. Added to that, the land is battered by regular strong winds and snow falls.
These extreme climatic conditions mean that football can only be played outdoors in Greenland from the end of May to mid-September, and even then it can only be practised on sand and ash pitches. Turf cannot be used, as moss and significant quantities of water from melted ice turn grass pitches into ankle-deep quagmires. Just laying down artificial turf pitches that meet international standards is a huge task in the country.
Fortunately, a solution was finally found around a decade ago to this and other challenges. Financed by the FIFA _Goal_Project, the Danish Football Association (DBU) built the country’s first ever artificial pitch in September 2009, in the town of Qaqortoq in the south of Greenland.
_Goal_Project makes history
The construction of this ultra-modern playing field cost around USD 500,000, 80 per cent of which was covered by the _Goal_Project. "This new pitch has enabled us to write a new chapter in our history," said Nuka Kleemann, president of the Greenland Sports Federation (GIF) at the grand opening in September 2010. "We are eternally grateful to FIFA and the DBU for their incredible support."
Greenland has had its own national association – the Kalaallit Arsaattartut Kattuffiat – since 1971 and six years later in 1977, under the aegis of Danish coach Niels Moller, they played their first matches. In four games against lower-league opposition from Denmark, they won two and lost two. Greenland’s first match against national opposition came in 1980, this time with Uvdlo Jakobsen at the helm, when they lost to the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
Temperatures as high as ten degrees centigrade in summer…
The Greenland national team is not recognised by the European Football Association UEFA or by FIFA, and is a member of neither association.
As such, the team cannot participate in international competitions such as qualifiers for the UEFA European Championships or the FIFA World Cup™. While tiny states such as Andorra and San Marino can take part, Greenland is an autonomous part of Denmark and not an independent nation, and therefore not allowed to participate according to FIFA statutes.
The national team is therefore stuck at amateur level, but with a firm desire to become a member of UEFA and take part in EURO qualifying.
This article is part of our 'The Global Game' series, which focuses on football away from the spotlight. Next week we'll travel to Cook Islands.