As preparation continues for the Icelandic national men’s football team’s three upcoming qualifying matches for the World cup, the Icelandic Football Association’s CEO Klara Bjartmarz is on temporary leave in addition to resignations from the association’s director and the entire board. The association has been accused of sweeping allegations of violence and sexual assault perpetrated by members of the national team under the rug but now requests space to follow through on an action plan against sexual assault and violence.
Ask for space to follow through on action plan
Following continued pressure to resign along with the former director and board of the Icelandic Football Association, CEO Klara Bjartmarz is now on leave for an indefinite period, Vísir reports. One of the Association’s deputy directors told Vísir that if the entire board resigned, FIFA might consider the Association incapacitated and take over under emergency protocols. That has occurred twice before, in Bosnia during times of war, and in Greece during the economic crisis.
A joint statement from The National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland, Íslenskur Toppfótbolti, and the Icelandic Football Association asked that Icelandic football be given room to follow through on the work they’re preparing to combat the issues raised in the past few weeks. The plan includes electing a new temporary board and organising a workgroup that will work on creating and reviewing the necessary work procedures to ensure the right reactions to reports of sensitive matters. The workgroup will cooperate with the communications advisor of sports and youth issues. According to the statement, the reviewed work procedures will be implemented into all associated institutions of the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland, making the association as a whole more prepared to handle such issues professionally. They note that while Icelandic football’s reputation has been damaged, it also has the strength, ability, opportunity and powerful members to improve and meet the challenges together.
The workgroup on sexual assault and violence within Icelandic football led by Kolbrún Hrund Sigurgeirsdóttir intends to work hard and professionally. Kolbrún stated to Fréttablaðið that the group will inspect the culture down to the youngest players. Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir who wrote an article challenging the Association to deal with allegations of violence has been offered a position in the group, as well as Steinunn Gyðu- og Guðjónsdóttir, Stígamót representative. Other members are yet to be announced but Kolbrún has said that the group will likely include a lawyer as well as someone from the Association. Kolbrún added that she had received several phone calls from staff and managers of football clubs over rumours of players within their ranks who might have committed violence. The staff don’t have confirmation that the rumours are true and they don’t know how to react in such a situation. “It’s a tough job and this won’t be accomplished in one day. It’s clear that we need to cover everything down to the youngest kids in football to change certain attitudes and to create a better atmosphere of safety and equality,” Kolbrún stated. She told Vísir that their role is to “figure out how we can make sure that there’s followthrough on such reports, and ensure that such cases won’t be let slide or solved in secrecy. We need to make sure that all reports receive a reaction.
Prime minister, feminists, and fan club weigh in
Icelandic football has a prime opportunity to change the toxic masculinity that has been allowed to fester, stated football fan and Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdótti, according to Vísir. “I think Icelandic football has the opportunity to handle this in a new way and make some radical changes. It’s important and I say this as the mother of a junior football player, not just as prime minister,” she stated.
Þorsteinn V. Einarsson hosts a podcast on masculinity and played football in the past. He has pointed out that the issue is so deep-rooted that footballers might not know how to react. “I really think that footballers don’t know what to say, how to react or what they can do. The fear of losing social standing, respect and power in the locker room breeds a certain kind of powerlessness,” he told Vísir “being a feminist isn’t the most popular thing to do in football, or to interfere with equality issues or taking a stand on uncomfortable subjects.” Þorsteinn added that players might fear repercussions from “old-school” coaches or teammates when returning to practice after speaking out on sensitive topics. “to state the obvious, not all football players are jackasses. But they can all take responsibility for the change that’s necessary.”
Tólfan, the national teams’ fan support group has issued a statement condemning all violence. They declare their support for victims of violence and will be showing it symbolically during the upcoming matches, staying silent until minute 12 of every match. The group also encourages its members to wear hats and insignia supporting women against violence such as the UN Women fuck violence campaign.
Their statement notes that their key phrase has always been “don’t be a jackass,” and that violence is jackassery in its every form.
Kolbeinn denies accusations of violence
Kolbeinn Sigþórsson is one of the players removed from the national team following the past weeks’ events. He plays for Sweden’s IFK Göteborg. While he wasn’t named by the victim who came forward following KSÍ’s original denial of reports of violence, Kolbeinn has stated the matter. While admitting that he “behaved less than perfectly,” and apologising for his behaviour, he denied harassing or assaulting them. “I repented and took responsibility and was ready to make amends. They had requests for an apology and payments which I agreed to. Additionally, I donated 3 million ISK to Stígamót [a centre for survivors of sexual violence] and in that way supported their important fight against sexual violence,” Kolbeinn stated. “The Icelandic Football Association was informed of the settlement process but their public denial of violence led to Þórhildur Gyða feeling robbed of that settlement. I have an understanding of that. I regret my behaviour at that time and am fiercely against the violence of any kind. I am still systematically working on my issues.”
Þórhildur was surprised by his statement, stating that she had not named him as she didn’t want to pull focus from what she believes is the main issue, the culture within the football association. She told Vísir that following her interview, she has been contacted by others telling her stories of sexual assault or violence by six or seven former or current members of the men’s national team.
Kolbeinn’s Swedish team has issued a statement condemning his behaviour but recently stated that they will not be terminating his contract, Vísir reports. Kolbeinn joined Göteborg’s team from AIK, whose manager now states that the Icelandic Football Association kept information from them when signing Kolbeinn. Henrik Juerlius told Aftonbladet that they contacted the Icelandic national team and Kolbeinn’s former clubs to find out if there was anything in his past that they needed to know about but received no such information. Kolbeinn signed with AIK in March 2019, two years after the Icelandic Football Association was notified of the incident.
Upcoming matches “a challenge”
At a press briefing for the upcoming national team match against Romania, veteran team member Kári Árnason states that it’s tough to enter a project by the national team under the current circumstances. “it’s a sensitive issue and what can I say? I can’t really touch the subject without throwing someone in front of a train, whoever it is, and I think it’s best that I don’t.” Iceland is playing Romania tonight in Laugardalsvöllur, followed by matches against North Macedonia, and Germany. The team’s coach Arnar Þór Viðarsson has stated that it’s hard to prepare for a match under the circumstances but they’re doing their very best to stay focused on the game.
Kári added that the upcoming project is tough and feels for young players entering the group under these circumstances. “It’s different this time and the focus outwards hasn’t really been on the football but that’s everything we’re focusing on. I don’t envy them entering into these discussions. It’s so sensitive that it’s hard to focus on something else but we’ll try to keep their minds on the project at hand. It’s not the most fun position to be in to enter the national team when people aren’t talking about young and exciting players but something totally different. They’ll just have to show what they got on the field and hopefully, they’ll start talking about them,” Kári stated.
The Iceland-Romania match tonight is sold out but tickets for the Iceland-North Macedonia match on Sunday are still available.