From Iceland — Equal Opportunities

Equal Opportunities

Published July 14, 2008

Equal Opportunities
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I grew up in a small village on the east coast of Iceland. In many ways it was an ideal place to be a young kid; the freedom was a lot more than in the larger village Reykjavík. There were endless opportunities for active children, the closeness of the community created a safe environment – in a small village everyone knows everyone, which is great for children – but maybe not so much for adults. Today, some 25 years later, most of the people my age have moved away.

Our favourite pastime was playing soccer at the small tarmac field by the school. We spent endless hours there, playing from early in the morning until late at night. It was there that we honed our skills which we put in use playing for the local team. Most of the competitive games we played were against teams from towns close by, but sometimes we got to travel to Akureyri for bigger tournaments and once we took a long bus ride to Reykjavík to meet up with the bigger teams there. This was mostly fun and games – the point was to have fun – the obsession with winning would come later.

Girls Not Invited
There were 17 kids in my class at school, 9 boys and 8 girls. Almost all the boys were involved in the soccer team although some of them were hopeless at kicking a ball and should really have spent their time reading books or collecting stamps. Only one girl took the sport seriously and she outclassed most of us. She was a great technical player, as strong as any boy on the team and as fearless as any 12 year old boy. At that age none of us questioned having a girl on our team; it didn’t even enter our mind that soccer should be a gender segregated sport. In a few years that changed. When we were 14 then it suddenly wasn’t considered proper to include a girl in the team. She was off the team despite the fact that she made our team stronger and our chances of winning greater. I’m not sure if this was insisted upon by our rival teams or our adult coach, but the result was the same: this young woman had to play soccer with other girls and not us boys.

Now in a small village with a population of 700 people it is quite a feat having one soccer team that caters to different age groups. The possibility, at the time, to have a separate team for girls was slim, especially considering that a fewer girls wanted to play soccer than the boys. Now the reason why so few girls wanted to play soccer was, in my opinion, simply because they couldn’t. If the local community had made it easy for girls to participate, to compete, to train – then a lot more of the girls in my class would have joined. There simply wasn’t a lot of interest in providing these girls with facilities, trainers, and opportunities. There was a women’s team in the next town, some 30 kilometres away, a hefty distance to travel for practice.

This girl was more stubborn than most. She travelled the distance and practiced with the team of the adjacent town. Later she moved to Reykjavík where there were bigger opportunities (in every sense) and played with some women’s teams there in the premier division. At that time the women’s division was an afterthought to the men’s, they often played at the practice fields of the clubs instead of the formal pitch, their games went unnoticed in the media and generally didn’t get much support.

Two Wins in One Week
This is slowly changing. Now the women’s national team is outclassing the men’s team – they have a good shot at making it to the European Cup Final in Finland next year – and in doing so, may become the first Icelandic soccer team to enter a final round of a big tournament. Last week the national team played two home games, beating Slovenia 5 – 0, and five days later annihilating the Greek squad, 7 – 0. These games drew a big crowd, over 5000 people showed up for the match against Greece and the media is catching on that women’s soccer is something worth mentioning.

When girls all around the country get the opportunity to practice and play soccer for as long as they want – and not just when the boys “let them” – we will in the future have an even stronger national team than we do now. When girls see positive role models in the media, women who are successful at what they do, there will be even more girls wanting to play soccer. The fantastic achievements of the women’s national team will propel women’s soccer here farther and make it possible for girls all around the country to reach their greatest potential.

Hopefully girls all around the country will be able to play soccer as long as they’d like, in an environment equal to what our young boys get. There is no reason why a 14 year old girl today should not get the same opportunities as boys her age.

  • Info: The Icelandic team is in Group 3 in UEFA Euro 2009 Qualification with France, Slovenia, Greece and Serbia.
  • Info: The team will meet France on September 27. They need only a draw to secure qualification for UEFA WOMEN’S EURO, taking place in Finland from August 23 to September 10, 2009
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