The Faroese people are mad about sports, both as a way of exercising and for leisure. This positive attitude towards keeping active has clear roots in the social and historical circumstances of the Faroe Islands. Before the introduction of modern infrastructure, people often had to walk long distances, hike up mountains, and row from island to island in order to get around. Physical activity thus became a natural extension of everyday life in the Faroe Islands, and it continues to be so.
Active from a young age
From a young age, children are brought on mountain hikes and fishing trips, and are introduced to the virtues of an active lifestyle. Because of the relative safety of letting children play outside freely in the Faroe Islands, physical activity becomes a natural part of growing up. Cycling, skipping ropes and many other outdoor games are played widely among children in local villages and neighbourhoods, often turning whole streets into playgrounds. Schools also emphasise an active lifestyle by making weekly physical education an integral part of the curriculum throughout compulsory education.
For these reasons, it is perhaps not surprising that sports and physical activity have become such characteristic features of the modern way of life in the Faroe Islands. Sports are not just seen as a means to be active and healthy, but have become deeply entrenched in the national culture. There is a general sense that being active is fun and praiseworthy. Most young people engage in some form of sport in a local club, whether it be football, gymnastics, handball, swimming, badminton, dancing or competitive rowing, and it is a common sight to see people of all ages running, both on designated running tracks as well as on roads and countryside paths.
Because many of the mentioned leisure activities have been part of everyday life in the Faroe Islands for such a long time, they go beyond common categories such as sport and fitness.
For hundreds of years, Faroe Islanders have taken part in physically demanding activities such as walking in the mountains and rowing open boats. Fishing was originally a means of survival, and the traditional Faroese chain dance also served a variety of purposes. In addition to being a joyful physical activity that helped people keep warm and happy during the cold, dark winters, the dance also provided people with an opportunity to come together and tell stories of the past and present through the singing of the old ballads 'kvæðir'.
To this day, the Faroese population takes pride and enjoyment in these activities, which are still widely practised, albeit sometimes with a modern twist.
In recent years, a growing number of Faroese athletes have participated in international competitions and earned worldwide recognition for their successes.
Currently, the most accomplished Faroese athlete is the elite and Olympic swimmer Pál Joensen, who has caught the world's attention with his impressive competitive achievements. Pál Joensen hails from the small town Vágur, located on the southernmost island of Suðuroy. Although his local swimming pool is only 25 metres long, he has slowly but surely worked his way into the international elite in swimming. Having already won medals in several regional and international swimming competitions. In addition to swimming, Faroese athletes have also gained international attention in the realms of football and rowing.
Although the Faroe Islands have independent membership in several sports associations, such as FIFA and UEFA, they have not yet been granted individual membership in the International Olympic Committee. Faroese athletes must therefore compete with the Danish delegation if they want to participate in the Olympic Games. The Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee is actively working towards achieving independent membership for the Faroe Islands.
· The Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee
· Faroese Swimming Association
The national football team
Worldwide, the best known Faroese sports team is the men's national football team. The Faroe Islands are one of the smallest football nations in the world, but though small, the Faroese football team is ahead of national football teams from much larger countries such as Moldova, Kenya and India in the FIFA World Rankings, and it is just trailing other larger countries such as Cyprus, Iceland and Bolivia.
Probably the team's greatest achievement was in 1990, when the Faroe Islands surprised the world with a 1-0 victory against Austria. The team has also played matches against world-leading football nations like France, Germany and Italy, and although the Faroe Islands have never managed to beat these countries, their players have managed to score several goals. There are two internationally approved football stadiums in the Faroe Islands: Tórsvøllur in Tórshavn and Svangaskarð in Toftir.
The roots of Faroese football go as far back as to the 19th century, and the first football club was established in Tvøroyri in 1892. Several more clubs followed its lead in the following decades, and in 1942 the first national football league was arranged. Since then, it has taken place on a yearly basis with ten teams competing in the top male division and six teams competing in the top female division each year.
Football's role in Faroese society
Today football is the most popular and widespread sport in the country. There are 19 local football clubs, which attract people of all ages and from all parts of the country to play football. The clubs are the heart of Faroese football culture, both when it comes to the competitive aspects, and when it comes the more leisurely and social aspects of the sport. They have competitive teams for children, men and women, and many of them have teams competing in several divisions of the national football league. But football is also a leisurely sport that people play to keep active and socialise with friends.
· Official website of the Faroe Islands Football Association
Although very popular and widespread, football is not the national sport in the Faroe Islands. The official national sport is rowing, which has direct connections to the cultural heritage of the Faroe Islands. Manned by young men and women, rowing teams use traditional open Faroese boats with six to ten oars and compete in the fjords of the Faroe Islands, surrounded by the natural beauty of mountains and waves. Although the rowing season is short, with only seven races between early June and the end of July, it is by no means easy. For several months a year, the teams dedicate great time and effort to prepare for the season. If you go to the seaside this time of the year, the sound of men and women cheering their comrades can be heard echoing from the boats.
The races themselves are between 1000 to 2000 meters long and take place in different parts of the country in ever-changing circumstances. In some locations a part of the race takes place on the open sea and thus wind, current and the waves play a big part and can in some cases decide the race. The season finale is on 28 July, on Ólavsøka, when Faroe Islanders gather in the capital, Tórshavn, to celebrate their national day. The finals draw large crowds and usually the highlight race is the 10-man boat race.
Faroese rowers have also achieved success in international rowing circles. In 2008 the Faroese rower, Katrin Olsen, became the first Faroese person to take part in the Summer Olympics together with the Danish delegation. Before moving to Denmark, Katrin Olsen first developed her rowing abilities in the Faroe Islands, where she won the national championship twice.
Another Faroese rower who has received wide international attention is Livar Nysted, who set two world records when he rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 2010.
Source: faroeislands.fo, sept. 2015.