(ATR) Signhild Joensen is a 17-year-old swimmer from the Faroe Islands who has made the qualifying time in her sport to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games.
Despite that, she may miss out on her Olympic dream because the Faroes, a self-governing region of Denmark, is not recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
"The biggest dream is to compete at the Olympic Games but it’s also my dream to compete under the Faroese flag," Jeonsen tells Around the Rings. "It’s big for me to reach the qualifying time so I know I’m good enough to be there."
As it stands, Joensen could make the Olympics only if she agrees to represent Denmark and not her native land. She would also need to post one of the two best qualifying times among all Danish swimmers.
She says if it came to competing for Denmark "it would be very strange" since she has trained in the Faroes "for my whole life and I know I belong here so to be representing another flag would not be 100 percent myself."
The Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee (FCSOC) is doing its best to make her dream a reality.
The FCSOC launched the latest campaign to get the Faroes into the Olympics in late May. If it succeeds, it would be the culmination of an ambition that is 40 years old.
From a sporting perspective, it’s hard to find any arguments against the Faroe Islands joining the Olympics.
A founding member of the International Paralympic Committee, the Faroe Islands has competed in every Paralympics since 1984. Faroese athletes have won 13 medals and recorded 11 world records during that time.
The Faroe Islands has been a member of FIFA since 1988 and eight of its sporting federations belong to international federations. There are 23 sports in the Faroes that have their own sporting federation. The Danish NOC and the Danish government both support the Faroes’ quest to join the Olympic Movement.
But while Faroese athletes can compete in world championships and European championships, the Olympics remain closed to them unless they qualify for the Danish team.
"This was better than not going"
Swimmer Pal Jeonsen is widely regarded as the greatest Faroese athlete. A multiple medal winner in European championships, he competed for Denmark in London 2012 and Rio 2016 after an agreement was reached with the Danish and international swimming federations.
"This was better than not going and this was kind of an easy decision," Jeonsen tells ATR. "Olympics is everything in swimming. World Championships - I’ve been to a lot of them - they’re great, especially long course, but still the amount of pride and effort also set into the Olympics is at least tenfold to a world championship. So I couldn’t just postpone it or bypass it and just stick to world championships and European championships."
But while Jeonsen admits that competing for Denmark was better than not going at all, he is adamant that such a measure is not a solution to Faroese athletes competing in the Olympics.
"If they would say that this resolves the issue - that I can change nationality just for the Olympics - I would strongly disagree. It’s an improvement from what has been but still I think it’s a long way to go because it’s not who people are."
Paralympian Katrin Dagbjartsdottir, who won two swimming medals representing the Faroes at the 1988 Games in Seoul, became emotional as she talked about the importance of being able to compete for her own country.
"Seeing the Faroese flag at competitions is crucial for an athlete. You have to see your own flag. We are not Danish at all, not at all. We should compete under our own flag, our own country. Like we are in the Paralympics. Because para doesn’t mean paralyzed it means parallel. But we are not in the Olympics yet and it’s a mistake surely."
IOC Recognition Could be a Boon to Faroese Sport
Team sports are also affected by the Faroes remaining outside the Olympics. Helgi Hildarson Hoydal was the captain of the U21 national handball team that competed at the U21 World Cup in Algeria last year, finishing 16th in the 24-team field.
Hoydal says the lack of Olympic competition cost the Faroes one of its best handball players, who opted to become Danish so he could compete at the highest level.
"That was a big loss and something we talk about very much so that it doesn’t happen again," Hoydal says, adding that the situation did lead to a restructuring of the national handball team.
"Now we have a great foundation for the senior team because we have all the youth teams right from 15 to 17 to 19 to 21 and now we have the seniors as well."
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in the Faroes, and FIFA and UEFA recognition means the sport has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 30 years. It also means the best athletes choose football over another sport because they know it is only in football that they have the chance to compete against the very best.
Signhild Joensen is one of many who believes that IOC recognition would create a similar result for the Olympic sports. She thinks many athletes can reach a high level of competition but don’t want to keep pushing because they know they can’t reach the Olympics.
"If we had our own flag it would be easier for them to see how it is possible. If someone else did it then I am also able to do it. That’s very important."
Finding willing participants shouldn’t be too difficult in the Faroes, where about a third of the 50,000 inhabitants are members of sports clubs.
The question remains as to whether the IOC gives the Faroese athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest level while representing their country. There can be no doubt that from a sporting standpoint, there may be no argument against it.
Travel and accommodation paid for by the Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee.
Written and reported by Gerard Farek
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