IOC agrees to discuss membership for Greenland and Faroe Islands


By Jesper Kock
It is very difficult for autonomous regions to become independent members of the IOC. Nevertheless, the two Danish autonomous regions, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, have now been given an unusual opportunity to present their arguments for independent membership directly to the IOC.

Since 1996 the IOC has not made any concessions to the rule that new members should be acknowledged by the UN as independent states. Greenland and the Faroe Islands are part of the Danish national community but still IOC president Jacques Rogge has agreed to meeting representatives from the two nations.

Slim chances despite high level support
The Danish government and the Danish National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation fully support Greenland and the Faroe Island in their wish to become independent members of the IOC.

However, despite the high level support, chances are still slim for a successful application. The IOC has strongly enforced its rules for membership and allowing Greenland and the Faroe Island to join could open up the gates for applications from 20-25 other autonomous regions like the Basque Country, Scotland and Wales.

Greenland is situated 3.000 kilometers north west of Denmark. 85 per cent of the country is covered in ice and the climate is arctic compared to the warmer climes of Denmark. Obviously many the sports played in Greenland are different to those played in Denmark.

"Considering the geographic and climatic differences we believe we have good arguments for independent membership," says Jens Brinch, secretary general of the Sports Confederation of Greenland.

Jens Brinch believes that is important for the sense of nation and identity that Greenland can participate in the Olympic Games under its own flag.

"Sport builds national identity and is an important step in being recognised in the world", he says.

Faroe Islands applied 22 years ago
In the Faroe Islands, hopes for independent membership are pinned on a different argument.

The IOC changed the conditions for membership in 1996. Before 1996 it admitted nations such as Puerto Rico, the Cook Islands and Aruba even though they were not recognised by the United Nations as independent countries.

Since the Faroe Islands applied for membership as far back as 1984 and have fulfilled all criteria for membership since 1987, the Faroese Confederation of Sport hopes the IOC will take into account that the application was made before the new rules came into force in 1996.

"There is a very strong national identity in the Faroe Islands and it would be unnatural for our athletes to compete under the Danish flag at Olympic Games," says Sølvi Hansen of the Faroese Confederation of Sport.

In the first instance, the Faroe Islands wants to be able to compete in the Games of the Small States of Europe for states with less than one million inhabitants and the European Youth Olympic Festival. Both of these events require membership of the IOC.

Whether a nation can take part in international sport events under its own flag depends on the way the sport is organised internationally.

The International Handball Federation for instance recognises both Greenland and the Faroe Islands as independent nations and allow them to take part in its tournaments. Greenland has played in the handball world cup.

In football, both UEFA and FIFA recognise the Faroe Islands and the team has won over Austria in the qualifying rounds for the European Cup.

So far no date has been set for the meeting between Greenland, the Faroe Island and the IOC.

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