You may know the North American nation of Greenland for the well-known common tale of how Greenland and Iceland were named to confuse future conquerers?
Or perhaps, you know Greenland because you really like polar bears and glaciers?
Or maybe you are a map enthusiast and are drawn to its sheer deceiving size?
There are of course other reasons for knowing Greenland such as their (US) American/NATO Military Bases like Thule Air Base of the US Space Force, as well as for other siginicant or popular reasons such as when former US President Donald Trump offerred to buy Greenland and then Conan O’Brien in went to Greenland.
But, unless you are a team handball enthusiast, I doubt you know Greenland because of sporting excellance.
Suffice to say, there are many fun facts to know about Greenland, but their sports scene is almost completely unknown to the common person.
But, why is this?
Due to its political classification as a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark, or in other words, a non-sovereign state, Greenland like other effective dependencies are not automatic shoe-ins for the world governing bodies. And therefore, Greenland often does not feature in major sporting events and often does not even have the chance to.
For example, they are not an IOC member and cannot compete in the Olympics, they are not a FIFA (association football) member and cannot compete in the World Cup, let alone World Cup Qualifications, and they are not members of FIBA (basketball), FIVB (volleyball), UCI (cycling), ITTF (table tennis), and plenty of other sporting federations that even the most obscure nations like Montserrat and Anguilla tend to be a part of.
The reasons for this are that nations like Greenland often have to have extra reasons to be admitted into these great sporting federations because they lack this independence so crucial to the way we understand national teams today. And therefore, any splots on their record and Greenland are almost guaranteed not to be allowed to join.
Despite these limitations, many national associations exist in sporting federations like FIFA that are in the same or similar political situations to Greenland.
For example, US-Territory Puerto Rico is one of the best baseball nations on the planet, and they compete independently of the USA in international baseball and most other sports like their famous basketball team too. They are also an IOC and FIFA member.
Another example would be French Polynesia usually denominated using the name, Tahiti, its biggest and most popular island. Despite being a French administrative division, Tahiti competes in most sports from FIFA to FIBA to the IOC. In fact, for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, Tahiti will host the surfing competition.
Lastly, and most notably in FIFA are the home nations of the UK, in the same status as Greenland as constituent countries, but of a different sovereign country. These are England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland who all compete as different nations in FIFA due to historic and talent reasons. These nations are all part of Great Britain in the IOC so for Olympic Football, they compete as Great Britain, with Northern Ireland players able to choose between Great Britain or Ireland.
And, like these home nations, other constituent countries already exist in FIFA too such as those of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Aruba.
And closer to home are the constituent countries a part of the Kingdom of Denmark that are FIFA members: Denmark and the Faroe Islands.
Only in Greenland’s (Danish) and Sint Maarten’s (Dutch) cases are constituent countries not members of FIFA and even in Sint Maarten’s case, their soccer association is a CONCACAF member.
So, what makes Greenland’s and Sint Maarten’s case different?
For example, in UEFA’s case (Europe), UEFA created a rule at the turn of the century that made having statehood membership in the UN a requirement. But, those that were already members or already applied to be members did not have to worry about this ruling. As such, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Faroe Islands continued to be members. Denmark and the Netherlands, despite being constituent countries as well, are seen as sovereign-states in this context because if their other constituent countries did not have national teams, then these two would still compete under these names and their flags as the sovereign-state. As is, most people view these national teams in this way. So, they do not really count for this conversation.
In addition, this allowed Gibraltar to become a member in 2016, because Gibraltar had applied for membership in 1999 before the rule change.
But, Greenland did not apply before the turn of the century, and therefore Greenland is not eligible for UEFA membership.
Therefore, Greenland is now looking to CONCACAF which makes the most sense anyway, considering the nation is in North America. This is why they have submitted their application to join CONCACAF earlier this year.
However, CONCACAF requires a 3,000 seat stadium and a certain distance between the stadium and an international airport, which the current national stadium does not provide. Luckily, Greenland is expected to have a domed stadium that would fit these requirements. They just need the funding. And, Nuuk International Airport is expanding which will close the distance. With CONCACAF stamp legitimacy, funding will be easier to obtain too.
While the new domed stadium is being built, Greenland would have an opportunity to play in Canada, the USA, or even Iceland similar to how other nations have played in neighboring nations like Gibraltar did in Portugal until 2020 (competitively).
As to their political status, Greenland should be completely fine as many national team members are less politically independent within CONCACAF and many of those nations have been admitted recently such as Bonaire last decade. Bonaire is a special municipality of the constituent country of the Netherlands with inside the Kingdom of the Netherlands, so its admission signals that Greenland politically has a high chance to earn CONCACAF membership.
But, then there is the geographical and competitive structures. As to the first point, the tale of Greenland’s and Iceland’s names, this has to do with why Greenland has failed to earn both CONCACAF and FIFA membership.
Up until 2004, FIFA required nations to have a natural grass pitches which Greenland was incapable of growing. Most of Greenland’s pitches were sand and gravel.
However, since 2004, FIFA allows nations to use specified and approved artificial turf as a playing surface which Greenland started to put into their soccer communities in 2010, and at their current national stadium in 2016. Now there are many more all over the island.
In terms of competition, despite their league being very short, only a week long, their competition actually lasts much longer regionally to get to this national level due to geographic reasons. The nation is the world’s largest island geographically, and there are not many transportation options that are safe or do not cost a lot. In other FIFA nations like Liechtenstein, their national championship is not very interactive either because unlike Greenland, Liechtenstein only has a Cup. Their clubs play in the Swiss Leagues for league competition. These comparisons bode well for Greenland’s application to FIFA and the potential allegations waged at them that could be used as reasons to preclude them from FIFA membership.
Furthermore, there are over 39 clubs and 5,000 players, in a nation of more than 55,000 people when looking at Greenland Football. This means around 10% of the country plays association football, a very high number that surpasses the likes of Guatemala which often ranks toward the top of the list of association football players per capita, usually only behind Germany.
These numbers are much more impressive than many CONCACAF and FIFA members, so these are good numbers to present to FIFA and CONCACAF.
Therefore, Greenland does look likely to become a CONCACAF member, especially if their new dome is even more planned out and CONCACAF is able to see real validity in these claims.
Not only this, but Greenland has a talent level superseding many in CONCACAF already according to Danish coaches such as their head coach who has said that Greenland performs at a Danish 3rd tier level. Once Greenland achieves CONCACAF membership, this level of play is expected to increase as the Greenlandic people will have more funding to build more infrastructure to play more, and will be able to better recruit their diaspora to their national team, such as those based in mainland Denmark.
And, with regards to FIFA, Greenland appears to have what it needs to join, outside of one important factor missing, and that is that FIFA has an independent country restriction now too.
Yet, there are no disputes about Greenland’s political status and therefore, it is highly unlikely that a Greenland application will draw much push back. The only pushback will be from other nations in similar positions wishing to be included who will use Greenland as a reason they should be included.
However, outside of a few sovereign states that are not member nations of FIFA like Monaco for example, most of these other would be FIFA members have less self-governance than Greenland, leaving a good argument for FIFA to use against letting in more of these nations. Only the Dutch constituent country of Sint Maarten has an equivalent status to Greenland and is not a FIFA member, as well as Niue (New Zealand) which is in another peculiar non-sovereign country status.
Therefore, Greenland’s application status is very likely to be accepted, at the very least by CONCACAF, especially if these new improvements to their footballing infrastructure are as true as they advertise. And as a CONCACAF member, Greenland would be very close to earning FIFA membership, if not inmideately.
This would not be completely foreign to Greenland though.
Greenland is one of North America’s best team handball nations and is a member of the IHF. This allowed Greenland to qualify for the 2001, 2003, and 2007 World Championships.
These exploits may not be likely to be matched in association football, but with more investment, there is a good chance we could see Greenland at least try for these seemingly unattainable goals.
For now, the Greenland Football Association (KAK) is independent and competes in various competitions like the Island Games. They used to be a part of CONIFA, a FIFA like federation for non-FIFA member nations such as Kiribati, Northern Cyrpus, Easter Island, Hawaii, Chagos Islands, and Kárpátalja.