Director of the Football Association of Iceland Guðni Bergsson is resigning following criticism on the Association’s behaviour concerning revelations on sexual violence by members of the Icelandic football league, including national team players. The Association’s board has issued an apology but does not intend to resign. Two members of the national football team have been taken out of the line-up in three upcoming qualifying matches for the World Cup.
Association accused of silencing victims
On August 13, Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir penned an article calling for an end to the silence surrounding sexual assaults and domestic violence committed by Icelandic football players, citing stories revealed on social media in response to a different high-profile sexual assault case. The Icelandic football association was pressed to respond, finally stating that they dealt with all incidents of violence through appropriate channels and denying accusation of silencing. Guðni Bergsson stated in an interview with RÚV that but they couldn’t react unless they were officially notified and that they had received no such notifications.
Director knew of violent incident
In an interview with RÚV last Friday, Þórhildur Gyða Arnarsdóttir revealed that in 2017, she was sexually and physically assaulted by a member of the national football team. She and another woman who was assaulted that same night reported the incidents to the police. Months later, her father was going to attend a national team match when he realised that the man who had assaulted his daughter was in the line-up. He contacted the Director of the Icelandic Football Association, Guðni Bergsson, and notified him of the incident. Guðni contacted both of Þórhildur’s parents and stated that this was a serious matter and there would be consequences. He then removed the player from the national team for a time.
When contacting the Football association director, Þórhildur’s father also contacted the President of Iceland, who replied to his letter, stating that he had discussed the matter with Guðni himself, but on account of his office, he could not become directly involved in the matter. Þórhildur noted that Guðni should have thus been well aware that a member of the national football team had been accused of violence.
Offered damages in exchange for signing non-disclosure agreement
Following this communication, Þórhildur states she was contacted by the Football Association’s lawyers, who offered her financial compensation in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement. Þórhildur turned down the offer and was then contacted by another lawyer on behalf of the football player who had assaulted her. The player confessed to his actions and paid her damages. Þórhildur states that she has no grievances with the football player but she wasn’t expecting him to be chosen for the national team when the Football Association knew of his violent actions.
Guðni Bergsson later admitted that it was a mistake to state that no reports of violence had reached the ears of the football association, claiming that he misremembered the incident, believing it to have been only a physical assault, not a sexual assault.
The Football Association issued a statement that the lawyers offering the non-disclosure agreement had not been working for them directly but Þórhildur disputed that statement. The first lawyer who contacted her had introduced himself as the football player’s lawyer but following that conversation, she contacted a legal representative who did some research and then told her that the lawyer was working for KSÍ. Later, when another lawyer working for the football player contacted her, the matter was resolved.
Public outrage follows revelations
The interview caused an uproar on social media, especially as the case comes on the heels of another high-profile sexual assault case which shook the nation. In that case, popular media personality and podcaster Sölvi Tryggvason was accused of sexual assault. Another recent high-profile case of a football player accused of sexual assault is the case of Everton-player Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson, accused of sexual abuse offended in the UK. Stakeholders within the football industry as well as ministers in Iceland’s government have expressed concern and requested clarification from the football association.
Director resigns, board stays
The board of the Icelandic Football Association met on Saturday for a meeting that lasted long into the night, but was ultimately inconclusive. Another meeting began at 10:00 AM on Sunday, and the two women in the boardmet with a representative from Stígamót women’s shelter, as well as Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir, who recently penned an article condemning the football association for silencing discussion on reports of sexual violence on behalf of national team members. At 4:00 PM, Football Association staff were called into a meeting.
Just before 5:00 PM, the Football Association of Iceland issued a short notice on Twitter, stating that Guðni Bergsson was resigning as Director of the Football Association and more information would be released shortly. Later that day, the Football Association issued a formal apology, translated in full below.
Two players removed from the men’s national team
Two players who were slated to play with the national team for the three World Cup qualifying matches have been pulled from the line-up: Kolbeinn Sigþórsson and Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson. They will be replaced by Viðar Örn Kjartansson and Gísli Eyjólfsson. The Icelandic Football Association’s website stated that Kolbeinn will not be participating on grounds of the decision made by the Association board whereas Rúnar Már withdrew due to injuries and personal reasons. According to visir.is, Kolbeinn is the football player who assaulted Þórhildur in 2017.
A good start
Þórhildur Gyða called this development a good start but said more action was needed, stating: “We can’t blame the protection of perpetrators within the Icelandic Football Association on one guy. A new board is needed, not just a new director.”
Dear victims. We, the board of the Icelandic Football Association believe you and apologise wholeheartedly. We know that we as the parties responsible have let you down and we intend to do better. The board has met over the past few days concerning the serious allegations that have been brought against the association recently on silencing sexual assault cases. We take the matter very seriously. Right now, we will start to work with outside professionals on reviewing all responses to sexual assault and violence within the association and how we have and will support victims. A group of professionals will be established and the Board of the Icelandic Football Association resolves to deal with these matters fully and completely and follow the advice of the group. Additionally, we would like to ask victims or others who have information on serious violence within the association to come forward. We will welcome you with open arms. We want the cases to be handled appropriately and we want to ensure that the responsibility of the violence will be placed on the shoulders of perpetrators, not victims.
We intend to fix things that have been broken and inspect the culture that exists within the football movement from the ground up in order to make sure everyone working within the industry experiences welfare and safety, while listening to victims and taking their interests into consideration.
On account of the statement the board issued on August 17 in response to accusations of violence on behalf of the men’s national team, it should be noted that the statement was based on the limited information the board had at the time, lacking data and further information that have later come to light. We apologise to Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir and others who stood at the front lines pointing out the violence within the Icelandic Football Association for the statement which belittled their accusations and assumed no responsibility nor sincerity.
It has already been revealed that the Director of the Football Association has resigned and accepted responsibility for how matters were handled. Until further decisions have been made, the Deputy Director will take over his work. All board members have considered their position. In order to ensure the uninterrupted operation of the association, the board’s conclusion is that it is reasonable that they keep their positions until the association’s next annual meeting in February of next year when board members are voted on.
We want to reiterate that the general staff of the Football Association has performed their duties with care and loyalty and holds no responsibility for the events that are unfolding.
This great wave that has been crashing for the past weeks has touched us all. A part of the largest volunteer movement in Iceland, what KSÍ does and says, matters. We have never been as aware of that as we are now and will seek the help of the community to make radical changes, support victims and be a part of the solution. This project will take time but we will begin right away.
The football movement is part of the community and we as a community all need to do better to support victims and fight sexual violence.
The Board of the Football Association: Ásgeir Ásgeirsson, Bjarni Ólafur Birkisson, Björn Friðþjófsson, Borghildur Sigurðardóttir, Gísli Gíslason, Guðjón Bjarni Hálfdánarson, Ingi Sigurðsson, Jakob Skúlason, Jóhann Torfason, Magnús Gylfason, Orri Vignir Hlöðversson, Ragnhildur Skúladóttir, Tómas Þóroddsson, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Þorsteinn Gunnarsson and Þóroddur Hjaltalín.