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Iceland's Soccer Federation Board Resigns In Uproar Over Sexual Assault Allegations

Iceland's soccer federation is in turmoil, after a scandal over sexual assault allegations against players prompted a mass resignation. Here, the country's flag is seen in the stands during an international match.
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Iceland's soccer federation is in turmoil, after a scandal over sexual assault allegations against players prompted a mass resignation. Here, the country's flag is seen in the stands during an international match.

The entire board of Iceland's soccer federation has abruptly resigned after being accused of mishandling allegations of sexual assault committed by players on the national team — and of covering up at least one alleged incident. The board also issued an apology to the victims, saying it believes them and promising to do better.

He said — and then she said.

The mass resignation at the Football Association of Iceland — widely known by the acronym KSI — comes days after its now-former chairman, Gudni Bergsson, said on Thursday that KSI's leaders had not received any reports of sexual assaults.

One day after that interview on national television, Thorhildur Gyda Arnarsdottir spoke out on the same network to say Bergsson's denial was false, saying that both he and the federation were well informed about an incident she reported four years ago.

Arnarsdottir told national broadcaster RUV that she and another woman were sexually assaulted in a club in Reykjavík by a well-known player from the Icelandic national team in September of 2017. Both women were left injured and filed police complaints the next day, she said. Arnarsdottir's family also informed the soccer federation and her parents spoke to Bergsson directly, she added.

Arnarsdottir also said the player in question acknowledged his actions and paid compensation, after she refused the federation's offer of a confidentiality agreement. When she recently heard the KSI leader's denial, she added, she felt both surprised and disrespected.

A wholesale change in leadership

The allegations threw Bergsson and the soccer federation into a crisis and put new attention on similar accusations against current and former players on Iceland's national team. Those accounts include allegations that some players perpetrated a gang rape roughly 10 years ago.

Arnarsdottir called for the federation's entire leadership to resign, saying they failed in their duties by repeatedly naming players to the national team despite credible allegations against them.

"This board is incompetent on this. So in order to make this happen, it would be best to get a new board as a whole," she said, according to the Reykjavík Grapevine.

Responding to the mass resignation, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said, "It is of course very sad to see that it has really taken all this to kick this series of events into motion. At the same time, I also express my great admiration for the victims who have stepped forth and told their stories."

Repercussions touch elite levels of Icelandic soccer

While the players tied to the allegations haven't been officially identified, Icelandic media have named several high-profile players who are believed to be involved.

As for KSI's leadership, Bergsson was the first to resign, on Sunday; the entire board followed suit late Monday.

"The football movement is part of the community and we as a community all need to do better to support victims and fight sexual violence," KSI said, according to a translation by Iceland Review.

Icelandic soccer has been under new scrutiny

KSI was put on the defensive about its attitude toward women earlier this month, when Icelandic columnist Hanna Björg Vilhjálmsdóttir wrote a scathing summary of the federation's recent history, from players allegedly joking about a gang rape to leaders' reported use of an official credit card at a strip club.

The Icelandic soccer federation, which says it's part of the country's largest volunteer movement, issued a statement Sunday asking more victims to come forward with their stories, pledging to repair its own culture and improve the way it handles accusations.

The wholesale resignation includes deputies and regional representatives. It does not include KSI executive director Klara Bjartmarz, who said on Monday that she sees no reason to resign, despite mounting public pressure for her to step down.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.