Much has been made of the Iceland’s men reaching their first Euros and now the quarter finals, but the women have qualified for the fourth time without the same recognition.
When the Iceland men’s team qualified for the Euro 2016, articles were published around the world about it being an unprecedented milestone for a nation of only 330,000. However, this is not the first time Iceland have qualified for a Euro’s, in fact this is the 4th, now the women again 5th, as they have qualified for 2017 in the Netherlands. The national women’s football team have played in the Euro’s three times (1995, 2009 and 2013) and have qualified for 2017. The men’s team are ranked 34th in the world (start of June 2016), the women’s team are 20th.
The myth of a feminist liberal paradise at the northern tip of the Atlantic Ocean is to an extent based on fact. Iceland routinely tops global gender equality rankings, it may be one of the first countries in the world to close the gender pay gaps and gender quotas are routinely used in government committees. However, gender inequality and discrimination are still rampant.
The first official women’s league game was played in 1970 with the national team founded over a decade later in 1981. (The women’s teams are the same as the men’s in the quality. A team just outside of Reykjavik, Breidablik have won titles in both leagues recently.)
In 1987 however, the national squad was effectively decommissioned by the local football federation (KSI). The team were not officially disbanded as such but instead not given any fixtures, funding or support (sounds like Saints). They were not revived until 1992 after prolonged lobbying. A year later they qualified for the Euro’s after winning all their qualifying games. In the knock out quarter finals they lost twice 2-1 to England, in Reykjavik and Brighton.
Discrimination was rife during those years and still lingers to this day. Thirty years ago women’s teams were given inconvenient practice times and often not allowed to play on grass. When they were, football boots were sometimes forbidden to avoid wearing out the pitch for the male games. Meanwhile coverage in the national newspapers was threadbare.
Gender equality in international football has had widespread press coverage recently. The biggest story being the wage discrepancy between the US national teams, where top international players have gone public with their fight to get equal pay to the men’s national team. The US women’s team are ranked first in the world, the men’s 31st. An argument about which team are more profitable seems to underpin the argument, but there are deeper issues at stake. Female players in Iceland are semi professional, anyone who wants to make a living out of the game needs to move abroad. Many have played professionally in Scandinavia, some in England and a few have risen through the ranks of US college football then turned professional.
Things are changing with local football magazines now having women footballers on the cover in 2002, before then it was custom to give the women’s team a smaller photo, if they got one at all. In 2008, when they qualified for the Euro’s in Finland after beating Ireland 3-0, the national team finally got on the front cover of Islensk knattspyrna (Icelandic football.)
Progress has been made. The support systems for the national teams are now comparable and the press coverage is improving each year. However, the undercurrents of inequality are strong, especially in the leagues. It became abundantly clear recently when a newspaper published an advert featuring the sports commentating team of the private TV channel Stod 2 Sport, which has the broadcasting rights to league games. There were 12 men, almost identically dressed. It wasn’t even a fair representation of their coverage as Helena Olafsdottir, a former national team captain, hosts a regular programme on the same station, covering the women’s league. There was a swift outrage on social media but the photograph bears witness to the work still to be done on a national level (Like the Saturday all boys club on Sky Sports).
When the men’s side qualified for Euro 2016 many celebrated like it was the first time an Icelandic football team had ever got so far in an international competition. They erected a massive screen in downtown Reykjavik to show Iceland’s matches. The women’s team did not get a screen in 2009 or 2013, but hopefully that will be rectified in the Netherlands in July 2017.
Not a lollipop person in sight!