Faroe Islands warn of dire consequences if bid for Olympic recognition fails
By Jonathan Rest
The Faroe Islands today launched its campaign to compete at the Olympic Games as an independent nation, fearing it could be wiped from the sporting map within the next two decades without recognition from the International Olympic Committee.
The Faroes have featured at every summer Paralympic Games since 1984, and compete as a country in eight sports, including soccer and aquatics, but their Olympic participation has always come under the flag of Denmark, of which it is considered a self-governing region.
The Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee [FCSOC] first made a pitch for IOC recognition some 40 years ago and despite a handful of attempts since, the door remains “slammed in our face,” its vice-president Jon Hestoy told reporters in London today.
Now a government-backed campaign, supported by the Danish Olympic Committee, and with experienced Olympic consultants Vero on board, has vowed to ramp up the pressure.
Hestoy said contact has already been made with Danish IOC member Poul-Erik Høyer, the president of the Badminton World Federation – one of the eight international federations that recognises the Faroe Islands – to push the message within Olympic corridors.
He also named Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al Sabah, the powerbroker and president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, as a “key mover and shaker” to get onside.
The Faroe Islands' last face-to-face contact with the IOC came in 2015, when prime minister Aksel Johannesen met with IOC president Thomas Bach, and FCSOC officials with IOC staff.
Reflecting on those meetings, Hestoy said: “It was our closest encounter with the IOC… We got a very short, precise answer: ‘we do not think the Faroe Islands fulfil the criteria in the IOC Charter’.
“You have to be recognised by the international community, and we are in many ways. We are not a totally self-governing country, that is correct, but in sport we are totally self-governing. We have absolutely no ties. We are totally independent… There is a not a penny, not a cent coming from Danish sports to Faeroese sports.”
He continued: “Whenever we write to the IOC, it’s a not a very fast process. I feel they prefer not to see this problem, and not to have any communication on it.”
While not a member of the European Olympic Committees, the FCSOC did attend last year’s EOC general assembly in Zagreb, where Hestoy said he was struck by a speech from Bach.
He said: “One line hit me. He [Bach] said the ‘Olympic spirit was for all and everybody’. Well maybe all and everybody, except the Faroe Islands.
“We really feel the Olympic spirit would be to let us in. We are not asking to come into the IOC to get on the gravy train. This is not a question about money or support; it’s a question about this small country with an enormous talent in sport, and giving our athletes the chance to compete in the Olympic Games.”
In addition to soccer, aquatics and badminton, the international federations that recognise the Faroe Islands in its own right are archery, handball, judo, table tennis and volleyball.
Hestoy said progress is being made with “three or four” other international federations, but that it is largely a “catch 22 situation,” noting: “Most international federations today say to get membership you have to present a letter from your IOC recognised NOC to become a member.”
Arguably the Faroe Islands most successful athlete is Pal Joensen, who won bronze for the country at the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships, but competed for Denmark at the London 2012 Olympic Games, only after the FINA Bureau gave special dispensation to essentially approve a change of nationality for 12 days.
Such switches in allegiance are being clamped down on by international federations, and without IOC recognition, Hestoy predicts a bleak future.
He said: “Some international federations have these [athlete eligibility] rules and say we do not accept you being Faeroese today, Danish tomorrow, and Faroese again in a fortnight. Then you will get a situation where people will have to switch their nationality. For me that is a really sad story; you’re Faroese but you have to be something else to participate in the Olympics. And this is the real catch, because everybody wants to compete in the Olympics.
“When they [international federations] clamp down, we will be faced with a situation where our athletes are asked ‘either you’re Danish and you go to the Olympics, or you’re Faroese and you don’t go to the Olympics’. It might be the worst case scenario.”
Hestoy even suggested that failure to get IOC recognition could result in legal challenges in future, citing next year’s European Games in Minsk, Belarus.
He said: “In that games there are four sports for which we are internationally recognised, and some of these will have their European Championships in the European Games, but only NOCs that are part of the EOC can send teams to these European Games.
“We had the same issue in Baku [the first European Games in 2015] when LEN [the European swimming confederation] put their junior championships inside the European Games. As a member of LEN you have a constitutional right to participate in all the championships they run, but this constitutional right did not go as far as the Faroe Islands.
“So we could not compete for the first time in 25 years in a European Championships. There was a big fight, we were ready to go to CAS, but they provided an acceptable, not perfect solution, and we participated as European swimming federation athletes.”
Hestoy said it would be "a dream" to see Faroese athletes march under their own flag at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but admitted to being "realistic" over its chances.
However, he warned the IOC: “We will stay in this process until we succeed.”