To gain membership of Uefa, the administrative body for soccer in Europe, countries must meet two requirements: be situated on the continent of Europe and be recognised by the UN as independent states.
Greenland is neither, but, come next week, its soccer association may be a step closer to joining anyway. During the Uefa annual congress, being held in Helsinki on April 5, delegates will be asked to take up a proposal that would change the membership requirement to bring it into line with that used by Fifa, the world soccer body.
Instead of requiring a country to be recognised as independent by the UN, Fifa only requires recognition by the “international community”. Likewise, Fifa’s rules also have a clause allowing non-independent countries to be included as members, provided they have the support of the country on which they are dependent.
In Greenland’s case, this is Denmark, which, since 2015, has been working to improve soccer conditions in Greenland with the aim of eventually allowing it to join an international football association.
Allan Hansen, the chair of the DBU, the Danish soccer association, and a member of the Uefa executive committee, told Danish media last week that he reckoned a rule change would improve Greenland’s chances of membership.
“As more powers are devolved to Greenland, it is getting closer to Uefa,” he said. “If the devolution process continues, then it’s not unthinkable that it will be able to submit an application, even though it isn’t fully independent.”
If the rule is changed, Greenland must still meet several other requirements before it can join Uefa, including building a stadium big enough to host international fixtures, having pitches that meet the association’s requirements and having a sufficient number of qualified coaches and referees.
The DBU has been involved with helping Greenland address some of these issues by supporting training programs and, together with Fifa, working to help build as many as six new full-size pitches with artificial surfaces.
While grass is the preferred surface for soccer fixtures, Uefa changed its rules in 2005 to allow sanctioned matches to be played on artificial grass. Not permitted, however, are the gravel surfaces that the majority of Greenland’s 5,000 soccer players still play on.
In addition to not meeting Uefa requirements, these pitches are rendered unusable during periods of rain, removing precious match days from an outdoor season that only runs from May to September. Building pitches with artificial surfaces helps to alleviate both problems, and, since the first was built, in 2009 in Qaqortoq, they have spread rapidly. Nuuk, the capital, currently has four.
Funding for construction has come from various sources. The Qaqortoq pitch was built with Fifa funding. Others have relied on either funding from the local council or from donations. This, suggests John Thorsen, the chair of GBU, the Greenland soccer association, shows that support for improving soccer in Greenland is broad.
“Greenland is in a pre-membership stage right now. I’m a lot more optimistic than I was five years ago,” Hansen said.
The next step is to build a covered pitch. At least three projects, two in Nuuk and one in Ilulissat, are on the drawing board, but it remains uncertain whether any of them will be completed.
Even without a rule change next week, Greenland’s political status may not be a terminal flaw in its efforts to join Uefa. A number of non-states, including Scotland, Wales and the Faroe Islands – also a part of the Kingdom of Denmark – are in. So too is Gibraltar, which had to resort to legal action to be allowed to join after Spain, which claims control over the British territory, initially blocked its entry by successfully lobbying, in 2001, for the stricter membership requirement.
The court decision to allow Gibraltar to join, according to Hansen, sets a precedent for resuming the practice of admitting non-states.
Thorsen expects that if Uefa changes its membership requirement, Greenland could have an application together by 2020.
“As long as we can play on artificial grass, we have plenty of facilities we can use,” he says.