On Thursday afternoon, several hundred Faroese will be spectators in Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin and tens of thousands on the island kingdom in the middle of the Atlantic will follow with glowing interest the Faroe Islands’ World Championship quarter-final for the U21 national team in handball against Serbia. 5 wins in as many matches – included victories against Spain (34-31) and Portugal (27-19) – the two finalists at the “U20 EHF 2022” – have surprised and impressed everyone with an interest in international handball. It will be sensational – but certainly not unrealistic – if the Faroe Islands, with only 2,500 registered handball players, win a WC medal in youth handball this coming weekend.
Handball – a very popular sport for children and youth in the Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands, which consist of 18 islands of volcanic between Great Britain, Iceland and Norway, have been part of the Kingdom of Denmark since 1814 with self-government in one of the world’s oldest parliaments: the “Lagtinget”. The population of the Faroe Islands is a modest 54,000 – the same number as in municipalities such as Hillerød and Fredericia. On most Faroese islands, handball – along with football – is the most popular and sometimes the only leisure activity among children and youth. The popularity of handball in the Faroe Islands means that the relative proportion of children and youth players is almost three times as large as in Denmark. Hondbóltssamband Føroya (HSF), which was founded in 1980, today has independent status with both the European Handball Federation (EHF) and the International Handball Federation (IHF).
The Faroe Islands without independent membership of the IOC
Since the mid-1980s, the Faroe Islands have – unfortunately so far in vain – applied for independent membership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has rejected membership for the Faroe Islands for political reasons. The IOC has the same position on independent membership for Greenland. Currently, three Faroese athletes have participated in the Olympics – representing Denmark – the swimmer Pál Joensen (2012) and the two rowers – Katrin Olsen (2012) and Sverri Nielsen (2021). Nor will the Faroe Islands appear as an independent nation at the upcoming 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The Faroe Islands’ biggest profiles on their way to the Bundesliga
The Faroe Islands currently biggest profile on the U21 national team is undoubtedly Elias Ellefsen Á Skipagötu, who is both the World Championship top scorer with 39 goals and the most assisted WC player with 31 assists in 5 matches. The 21-year-old Elias Ellefsen Á Skipagötu has spent the past three seasons playing for IK Sävehof, where in the 2021-2022 season he was the most valuable player (MVP) in the Handbollsligan. After the summer holidays, the great talent continues his career with the German champion team THW Kiel on a 3-year contract.
The right winger Hákun West Av Teigum, who – like Ellefsen – is also a profile on both the U21 and national teams, switched to Skanderborg Handball Elite Academy (SHEA) as a 16-year-old. Over the past three seasons, Hákun West Av Teigum has become more and more valuable to the league team in Skanderborg Aarhus Handball and he will change his address over the summer to one of the top clubs – Füchse Berlin – in the world’s strongest league: the Bundesliga in Germany.
The men’s league in the Faroe Islands consists of 7 clubs, but more and more of the very best players choose – often as youth players – to continue their careers in the best or second best leagues in Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Iceland. There are currently 25 players from the Faroe Islands who are either full-time professionals or combine elite handball with studies or part-time work abroad. Among others, Rói Ellefsen Á Skipagötu (little brother of Elias) and Pætur Mikkjalsson will represent IF Hallby HK next season, while the only 18-year-old Óli Mittun (MVP and top scorer at “U18 EHF 2022”) will continue to play for IK Sävehof. The Faroe Islands’ international success among the male youth national teams has already caused many agents and several clubs in the best European leagues to turn their attention to the talents from the 18 smaller islands in the Atlantic.
Robustness and identity are among the most important reasons
According to Peter Bredsdorff-Larsen, who has been head coach of the national team for the past two years, there are several connected reasons for the unique talent development in Faroese handball. Firstly, the players are extremely robust – not least mentally. They were raised in harsh nature and under sometimes extreme weather conditions, which make physical skills on endurance, courage and strength. Secondly, the players – who very often have family relationships with each other – make high demands on themselves and their teammates. The players thus know each other very well, both in success and disappointments. And thirdly, the individual national teams show great intensity and energy – regardless of whether the opponent is Denmark, Sweden, France or Germany and regardless of whether the team is far ahead or behind.
The Faroe Islands – or Denmark II – for the 2028 Olympics or the 2032 Olympics?
Fight, courage and intensity will also be needed when in 7 months the Faroe Islands will participate in the nation’s first international final championship for senior national teams: EHF EURO 2024 in Germany. The Faroe Islands’ matches in the preliminary round are played in Berlin, where the opponents are Norway, Slovenia and Poland – all nations that are seeded for a higher ranking than the Faroe Islands. The island kingdom in the Atlantic will naturally be “underdogs” in all the matches, which, however, is a role that suits them perfectly. The dream of success at EHF EURO 2024 or participation at World Championship 2025 in Croatia, Norway and Denmark is absolutely not unrealistic for the Faroese national team. And perhaps qualification for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles or the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane is also more than just a dream scenario for the proud people from the Atlantic. The question then is whether a possible participation in the Olympics should take place under the name Føroya … or Denmark II. The latter will be a “blame” – both for Denmark and especially for the IOC.
Hondbóltssamband Føroya (HSF) – https://hsf.fo/
International Handball Federation (IHF): https://www.ihf.info/competitions/junior-men/310/24th-ihf-mens-junior-u21-world-championship/121823/