Plans for New National Arena Announced

Laugardalur, Reykjavík

A new National Arena for sports will seat 8,600 attendees and be opened to the public in 2027 or 2028. At a press conference yesterday, Minister of Education and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason announced an open competition for the design and construction of the building, which is to be located in Laugardalur in Reykjavík.

The National Arena will cost an approximate ISK 15 Billion [$110 Million, €100 Million] and will be in 55% ownership of the Icelandic state and 45% by Reykjavík city, Mbl.is reports.

Handball championship dreams

Iceland has a joint bid with Denmark and Norway to host the 2029 or 2031 World Men’s Handball Championship. When asked about the arena’s capacity, Ásmundur said jovially that that he could see the arena being completely packed with people “when Iceland becomes world champion”.

The design competition will be open to teams that include an architect, an engineer and contractors. Qualifying teams will receive funding to prepare a design proposal and a bid in accordance with specs and cost projections.

Football, track and field next

Two other sports-related construction projects are still in the early stages, a National Stadium for football and a National Stadium for track and field. Ásmundur said that the arena was being prioritised as it could be completed more easily and service youth sports and local sport clubs as well.

Minister Reviews Children’s Pending Deportation

Deporting children is “not something that we want to stand for as a society,” Iceland’s Minister of Children’s Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason stated when asked about the case of two Palestinian children who are set to be deported from Iceland. The Directorate of Immigration plans to deport the two boys to Greece, but the Minister has asked to receive more information about their cases.

Cousins Samir (12) and Yazan (14), came to Iceland in April after a dangerous voyage and six months in a refugee camp in Greece. They were sent from Palestine around one year ago by their families along with their 30-year-old uncle in hopes of a better life. Upon arriving in Iceland, they were both placed with foster families, as authorities believed there were grounds to investigate whether they were victims of human trafficking, which turned out to not be the case.

The boys have been living with two separate, but related, Icelandic families and also have relatives here in the country who received protection several years ago and have adapted to life in Iceland. The boys’ immediate families live in Gaza, where they are now under constant threat due to Israel’s ongoing attacks.

Directorate of Immigration to deport boys

A little over a month ago, Sameer and Yazan received the news that Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration was not going to take their cases into substantive consideration as the boys had already received international protection in Greece. They were ordered to leave the country along with their uncle, who is their registered guardian. The ruling has been appealed.

Reports from Amnesty International and statements from the Icelandic Red Cross have condemned the living conditions faced by refugees in Greece. Refugees in the country have difficulty accessing healthcare and housing and face ill-treatment from law enforcement officials even in cases where they have been granted international protection.

Family’s neighbourhood in Gaza destroyed

The Gaza neighbourhood where the cousins’ families live was destroyed by air strikes around one week ago, and two days passed before they received news that their parents and siblings were alive. The two boys have expressed their desire to stay in Iceland. “Icelanders cannot stop this war, but what we can do for people is to ease their worries about being deported tomorrow or the next day, or next week. That they don’t also have to deal with that,” Yazan’s foster parent Hanna Símonardóttir told RÚV.

Minister of Children’s Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason stated that his ministry had requested information on the case, but did not want to comment further on it until he had reviewed that information. Nearly 10,000 petitioners are calling on Icelandic authorities to grant the boys, and all Palestinians in Iceland, protection.

15% of 10th-Grade Girls Have Been Raped By Peers, Study Finds

Farsældarþing

A new study presented at the Children’s Prosperity Congress reveals alarming rates of sexual harassment and violence among Icelandic youth, with one in six tenth-grade girls stating that they had been raped by a peer and the majority of victims not reporting it, RÚV reports. Almost 60% of teenage girls report having encountered sexual harassment online.

Voices of the youth “extremely important”

Professionals, government officials, children, and relatives convened at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall yesterday for the Children’s Prosperity Congress (i.e. Farsældarþing).

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children, told RÚV that parliament played an important role in implementing laws contributing to the prosperity of children. “It’s significant that experts involved in children’s issues from various sectors are convening here. We’re not just discussing the current state of affairs, but also identifying the key challenges, scrutinising data, and setting policies. This helps us decide, as a society, where to focus our efforts in the upcoming seasons,” Ásmundur Einar observed.

Ásmundur Einar emphasised the crucial role of children’s input in shaping the service. “Their voices are extremely important and should be included in every discussion and decision-making process.”

Important to articulate the concerns of the youth

Hanna Valdís Hólmarsdóttir, a 15-year-old participant, remarked that she was struck by the extent to which their voices, as young people, were heard. “It’s awesome.”

Sixteen-year-old Ernir Daði Arnberg Sigurðsson concurred, saying that it felt crucial to articulate the sentiments and concerns of the younger generation. “Society faces numerous pressing issues, and it’s important that professionals hear our perspective so they can effectively address them.”

Fifteen-year-old Emilía Karen Gunnthórsdóttir hoped that the congress would prove successful. “I have both hopes and confidence that this congress will yield successful results,” she stated.

Striking statistics on violence

During the congress, findings from the Icelandic youth study (i.e. Íslensku æskulýðsrannsóknarinnar), conducted among primary school students this past spring, were disclosed. Ragný Þóra Guðjohnsen, who managed the study, highlighted several positive outcomes from the children’s responses. “A significant majority of children feel content in their school environment and exhibit increased social awareness,” Ragný noted.

There are, however, pressing concerns, as well. For instance, between 30-44% of children report feeling sadness, and as many as 56% experience anxiety. “Here, we see a marked gender discrepancy, indicating that particular attention must be paid to girls,” Ragný added.

Shockingly, 11% of children have been exposed to domestic violence, and an alarming 58% of teenage girls have encountered sexual harassment online. “A disturbingly large segment of children have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence,” Ragný Þóra observed. “We’re witnessing a rise in violence against children, with boys requiring particular attention.”

Other statistics are equally alarming: 15% of 10th-grade teenage girls have been raped by peers, and 17% have suffered sexual abuse from an adult. A majority of abuse victims have not disclosed their experiences to anyone.

Violence is rampant

“Violence is rampant today,” 15-year-old Hanna Valdís told RÚV yesterday. “It’s disheartening to see how normalised it has become for people my age to engage in physical fights and even suffer from stabbings or severe abuse.”

Emilía Karen emphasised the importance of accessible support for struggling teens. “Everyone needs someone to talk to when grappling with anxiety or depression. Greater societal support is imperative.”

Perpetrators encouraged to seek help

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Guðbjörg S. Bergsdóttir of the Data Science and Information Department of the National Police Commissioner pointed out that violence can be reported via the website 112 or by contacting a trusted adult.

The office has recently launched an initiative targeting perpetrators, or individuals pursuing inappropriate contact with children. Help can be sought at the website taktuskrefid.is, which offers a self-assessment for those concerned about engaging in harmful online behaviour.

Initiative to Regulate School Phone Usage Announced

Smartphone

Iceland’s Minister of Education and Children has announced a nationwide initiative to create guidelines for smartphone usage in primary schools. The move comes in response to new research highlighting both the widespread ownership of mobile devices among Icelandic children and the growing concerns about the technology’s potential negative impact on their well-being and academic performance.

A reference point for schools

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Iceland’s Minister of Education and Children has announced an initiative to formulate guidelines for smartphone usage in primary schools nationwide. The guidelines will be the result of consultations involving parents and children, local authorities, school administrators, teachers, and other key stakeholders. The forthcoming guidelines are intended to serve as a reference point for schools as they develop their own policies on smartphone usage. A key focus of the initiative is to ensure robust educational programmes aimed at mitigating any adverse effects associated with mobile phone usage in educational settings.

Recent research conducted by the Media Commission and the Institute of Education at the University of Iceland reveals a near-ubiquitous presence of mobile phones among Icelandic children. Ninety-five percent of students in grades 4-7 own a mobile device and 98% in grades 8-10. The percentage of students utilising the internet for academic purposes on a daily basis is considerably lower in younger grades, however, but increases gradually from 7% in grades 4-7 to 38% in grades 8-10, and reaching 74% in secondary schools.

An urgent need to address the issue

While information and communication technology (ICT) plays an important role in the educational experience, there is an urgent need to address its potential downsides for children and young adults within the Icelandic educational system. Emerging research indicates a significant surge in screen time, especially among children, adversely affecting their sleep, mental, and physical well-being. Studies also suggest that implementing restrictions on mobile phone usage within schools can enhance academic performance, particularly for students who are academically challenged.

“As technology continues to advance, it’s evident that it carries both merits and drawbacks,” Minister Ásmundur Einar Daðason is quoted as saying. “In Iceland, where screen usage is already high and on the rise, opinions on the issue are diverse, and existing school policies are inconsistent or sometimes non-existent. Our objective is to establish well-defined criteria for primary schools and bolster educational programmes to address this. We aim to navigate these technological advancements in a manner that prioritises the well-being and academic success of our children.”

Government Signs Agreement to Bolster Elite Sports in Iceland

Elite sports agreement

This weekend, the government signed an agreement with the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland (ÍSÍ) on the formulation of policy concerning elite sports. Former Olympian and coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson has been hired to oversee the project.

Towards an improved environment for elite athletes

During a press conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, last Saturday, January 21, the Ministry of Education and Children’s Affairs and the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland signed an agreement on the formulation of policy concerning elite sports in Iceland. As part of the agreement, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson – former Olympic athlete and coach – will relocate to Iceland to collaborate with the government to formulate measures on how best to improve the status and rights of elite athletes in Iceland.

Minister Ásmundur Einar Daðason has also appointed a special working group comprised of interested parties to collaborate on the project, which Vésteinn Hafsteinsson will lead. The aim is to create “the best possible framework for elite sports in Iceland” and to put “high-performance athletes on equal footing with their competitors on an international level.”

Highly experienced athlete and coach

The government’s press release notes that Vésteinn, as a coach and former top-ranked discus thrower, is “familiar with the conditions required to shape and sustain elite athletic performance.” Last year, Vésteinn was chosen Coach of the Year in Sweden, having helped Swedish discus throwers Daniel Stahl and Simon Pettersson secure gold and silver medals respectively at the Tokyo Olympics. Vésteinn has been involved in a wide variety of sports over the years, both in Iceland and abroad, and “knows the environment and the athletes well.”

Vésteinn has been hired for the next five years to formulate policy changes with the government and, in the future, follow up on the implementation of this policy in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Children’s Affairs and ÍSÍ. Vésteinn will also assume the role of ÍSÍ’s Performance Manager where he will, among other things, supervise ÍSÍ’s Achievement Strategy (Afreksstefnu) and aid Icelandic competitors in preparation for the Olympics.

“It is very pleasing to cooperate with Vésteinn on this important project,” Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children’s Affairs, stated at the press conference. “Elite athletes are role models. They inspire and motivate us. They prove that we can achieve excellent results, despite our smallness. This initiative will serve to strengthen sports across the board, while at the same time stimulating recreation and solidarity. Our top athletes do not enjoy the same support as their foreign counterparts. Nor do they have access to the same facilities. They also do not enjoy the same civil liberties as the rest of us. This needs to be fixed. With a new national stadium, we improve our facilities. And now begins a review of our entire framework for elite sports in Iceland as stipulated in the government agreement.”

As noted on the government’s website, the aim of the work, going forward, is to review and propose changes to the framework, legislation, and other aspects deemed necessary to provide support for elite athletes in Iceland. The working group is tasked with examining, in particular, the cost of participation in national-team activities for competitors and their families, as well as examining the civil liberties of accomplished athletes within the state’s different social support systems.

More Support for Children’s Mental Health Services

In a recent government announcement, an agreement has been reached to increase mental health services for children.

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children’s Affairs, has signed an agreement with SÁÁ, an Icelandic organisation that offers treatment and counselling for individuals suffering from addiction.

The agreement is intended to increase support for SÁÁ’s services for children after the difficulties posed in the last years by the COVID-19 pandemic, including increasing services and reducing wait times for children who live with relatives suffering from addiction.

The agreement is one point in the measures taken by the government to increase government support for children and their families, consistent with laws on integrated services for children’s wellbeing.

Regarding the new agreement, Minister Ásmundur Einar Daðason stated: “To promote children’s success, it is not enough to focus only on them, but also the environment in which children grow up. The problems of relatives can become the problem of children in one way or another if the children and their families are not considered in a wider context with effective and early support.”

Projects to be supported in the agreement include an additional psychologist for children with parents served by SÁÁ, parents admitted to care facilities or receiving outpatient services will receive more information on children’s psychological services, and children’s psychological services are now set to begin at the same time as the parents’ alcohol and drug treatment.

Read more about mental health and Icelandic youth here.

Reykjavík Ramps Up

In March of this year, a project called Ramp Up Reykjavík launched with the intention of helping local businesses install wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Per an press release on the City of Reykjavík website, the organization not only met its initial goal of installing 100 ramps around the capital four months ahead of schedule, it also has a surplus of funds—ISK 15 million [$115,517; €99,876], to be exact—which will be placed in an Access Fund to assist in funding additional ramp access.

Ramp Up Reykjavík is a collaborative venture undertaken by local businesses, labour unions, government ministries, associations, banks, and city officials. It was launched by entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson after finding himself stuck outside downtown shops and restaurants on numerous occasions. He recalls a recent summer night during which he had to sit outside a shop while his family all went inside because there was only one step at the entrance and it was too tall for his wheelchair to go over.

“That wasn’t the first step,” he writes. “I’ve sat outside before and often. I’ve not gone to coffeehouses because of that step. I’ve not met friends out. I’ve not gone downtown on Þorláksmessa with my family. All because of that step.”

Haraldur isn’t the only person in his position, he continues, noting that thousands of Icelanders use wheelchairs, and thousands of tourists, too. This is what inspired him to start Ramp Up Reykjavík, soliciting donations to fund 100 ramps to start with. Under the terms of the funding, restaurant owners can be reimbursed for up to 80% of the cost of installing a wheelchair ramp on their premises.

“It’s amazing how easy it actually was,” Haraldur says. “All the founding members, planning authorities, restaurants, and shops in the area really pushed the boat out to get the ramps set up and we had a lot of support from the start.”

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson praised the project and said the city was prepared to continue funding for it. Ramp Up Reykjavík will continue to improve access around the capital but is also set to move further afield. Akureyri mayor Ásthildur Sturludóttir said she’d support the project in her town and both Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister for Social Affairs and children Ásmundur Einar Daðason said that they’d support the initiative in the countryside, having seen how successful it’s already been in the capital.

Major Rent Decrease for Bjarg Tenants

apartments downtown Reykjavík housing

The Bjarg íbúðafélag housing association will be lowering the rent for a number of tenants by as much as ISK 35,000 [$280, €238] a month, RÚV reports. The rent decrease will go into effect on September 1.

Established by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB), Bjarg is a not-for-profit foundation that aims to provide affordable, long-term housing for low-income families and tenants. According to new data collected by the Housing and Construction Authority, once the decrease goes into effect, rent paid by Bjarg’s tenants will be 20% cheaper than rent on the general housing market.

Bjarg has credited a recent government decision to grant favorable, long-term refinancing on the loans it received from the Housing and Construction Authority. The new lending terms will apply to loans that go toward the construction and purchase of apartments for the social good, such as in the case of a nonprofit like Bjarg. A letter of intent outlining this decision was co-signed by Minister of Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Bjarg CEO Björn Traustason, and Housing and Construction Authority Assistant Director Anna Guðmunda Ingvarsdóttir.

Bjarg made its first apartment available two years ago and now rents around 500 units. Björn says that the foundation expects to have as many as 1,000 apartments within a few years.

The rent decrease is expected to put pressure on other apartment associations to lower their rents as well, Ásmundur Einar remarked to Vísir. “I’ve no doubt it will. This is the first time that we’ve had lower interest rates passed directly down to tenants. This is what happens with companies like Bjarg, which ensures that all profits go straight to the lessee and not to the landlords.”

Immigrant Counselling Centre Opens its Doors

Kolbeinn Óttarsson Porppé, Joanna Marcinkowska, and Ásmundur Einar Daðason

Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason opened New In Iceland today, a counselling centre for immigrants in Iceland offering services in eight languages. The goal of New in Iceland is to ensure better and more direct counselling for immigrants in order to help them feel safe and supported while living in Iceland. New in Iceland is a pilot project of the Icelandic Ministry of Social Affairs and was established as a result of a parliamentary resolution from 2019 introduced by Left-Green MP Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé.

The centre’s goal is to offer accessible counselling, directions, and information for immigrants on necessary services, their rights and responsibilities, helping to keep them safe, well-informed, and supported. The centre is meant to be a co-operative platform between municipal and state-run institutions; unions; and other associations working closely with the Multicultural and Information Centre, the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, the Debtors’ Ombudsman, and the Directorate of Labour. Counsellors can gather information from different institutions and facilitate connections to advance services, making it easier for immigrants to get the services they require.

The counselling centre employs five people from diverse backgrounds who are able to offer counsel in seven languages in addition to Icelandic: English, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Lithuanian, and Russian. Counsel in other languages is also available through translators and all services are free of charge and confidential. The Counseling Centre’s new website newiniceland.is is now up, where individuals can be in touch, request an interview or just chat with the counsellors.

The counselling centre is a nine-month pilot project and is up for review after six months to determine its future operations.

Unemployed Icelanders Offered Training and Jobs as eSports Coaches

League of Legends eSports

Unemployed Icelanders will be able to access free training in eSports coaching, thanks to a new collaboration between the Social Affairs Ministry and the Icelandic eSports Association. Iceland’s government has invested ISK 10 million ($78,000/€64,000) in developing and implementing the coaching course specifically for locals who are currently between jobs. Participants will receive a six-month work contract upon completion of training. One goal of the project is to create permanent jobs in the growing eSports industry.

“I am very excited about this collaboration with the Icelandic eSports Association, where we are hitting two birds with one stone,” stated Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Social Affairs and Children. “Create exciting opportunities for unemployed individuals and at the same time strengthen eSports infrastructure. There is a lot of strength and growth in eSports in Iceland, but the industry is young and therefore the infrastructure in clubs is often lacking. There has also been a lack of individuals who have experience in training young people, and it is very important that we get individuals with skills and experience into [the eSports industry].”

Ólafur Hrafn Steinarsson, chairman of the Icelandic eSports Association, celebrated the initiative. “This project is extremely important for eSports in Iceland and a great recognition of the excellent work that has been done for eSports in recent years.”

Esports are a form of organised video game competitions, played both individually and in teams. The industry has been growing globally as well as within Iceland, which boasts over 20 eSports clubs that provide eSport activities and training for over 600 children. “This project enables us to be at the forefront of developments in this field globally,” Ólafur Hrafn stated of the initiative. “There are exciting times ahead in this new field.”

Iceland’s government put together a task force last December to write a policy concerning the eSports industry. The group is expected to finish their work at the end of this month.