The fight continues…

Tanja Ósk, my 15-year-old daughter, has, for the second consecutive year, chosen not to make herself available for the youth national basketball team of Iceland. Tanja stated that she will not play until the Icelandic Basketball Association allows boys and girls to play against each other in official tournaments held by KKÍ (Icelandic Basketball Federation) or provide a valid reason why it is impossible.

This is her letter to KKÍ last December after she was asked if she would make herself available to play for the national team:

Hello Kristinn,

Like last year, I will not make myself available for the national team until KKÍ allows girls and boys to compete together in the youngest age groups. Everyone can see that this is silly, and there are a lot of girls playing in these tournaments even though it is forbidden by KKÍ. I think it is ridiculous that my friend xxxx was able to play with 8th and 9th-grade boys when she was in 8th grade, but my former girls’ team aged 10 and 11, was not able to play as a team.

Another thing that needs to change is for KKÍ to apologize for their behavior towards the people in club Athena and the silencing of incidents of sexual harassment by coaches and referees under the KKÍ umbrella. If KKÍ does not allow young girls and boys to play together and does not start properly addressing misogyny and gender-based violence, I will not be seen wearing the KKÍ logo.

You can show this letter to Chairman Hannes. It would be great if some of you would start talking to us girls instead of talking about us as if we are brainless and have no opinions.

Best regards,
Tanja Ósk Brynjarsdóttir.

As of now (February) no reply.

I am compelled to shed light on my daughter’s participation in basketball in Iceland, which has to do with her and her teammate’s fight to be allowed to play against boys when they were younger. This is the appropriate time to do so, particularly in light of the upcoming congress of the Icelandic Basketball Association this coming March. The people of Athena, our newly founded club, are making another honest effort to get the Association to agree to allow girls and boys to play together in the youngest age groups. The goal of writing this is to describe to people the circumstances she is dealing with.

On this website, you can find related information to my writings:

For many of those reading this, the story behind Tanja and some of her teammates’ fight started in 2015 when they were eight years old, and their parents and I, as their coach, decided to register them in a boys’ tournament—an all-girl team. Something that had never been done before in youth tournaments that are not official and held by Icelandic clubs. After two year of playing boys we would later register them in in official tournaments ran by the Icelandic Basketball Association where they would be kicked out. We did it because they quickly became outstanding and dominant in their gender and age group. At the time it seemed insignificant to me as girls have been playing on boys’ teams for decades without much attention. That however, was mostly in the case of filling the roster when the boys’ teams lacked players.

Why don’t the girls play against older girls?
Some people asked why the girls wouldn’t just play against older girls so they wouldn’t rock the boat. When we did that, we found out that the older girls just packed it in and allowed our girls to shoot from the outside, not getting the same benefit as when they played against boys of the same age who pushed them to their limits, pressuring them full court. Playing boys their age made them better at basketball.

Why did the girls want to play against the boys?
The answer is simple, that’s where the best players were, and they were interested in constantly challenging themselves against the best teams and players.

Why are the girls showing other girls disrespect?
The belief that the girls were disrespectful by not wanting to play against other girls was a ridicules. The girls actually wanted to play against both boys and girls and even invited other girls to join them in playing against the boys. They felt that playing against boys would provide more opportunities to learn and improve, as the culture of the boys was more focused on excellence, while the culture of the girls was more focused on socializing. One of the girls stated that it was unfair for other girls to accuse them of being disrespectful just because they preferred to play against better players. But like so many times the equality revolution started to eat its own children.

What were the reactions of the tournament organizers at first?
A series of interesting reactions appeared on the horizon the first time we entered a boys tournament. I won’t forget the responses this girl’s team got when we entered our first boys’ tournament. The boys play on Saturdays, and the girls play on Sundays. The tournament manager greeted us politely and apologized, saying something had gone wrong with the scheduling, “Unfortunately, the girls play tomorrow on Sunday, while today is Saturday and the boys are playing.” I said, “Yes, we came to play against them,” but he replied, “But they are girls,” I thanked him for pointing that out but told him I was already aware of that. So, we continued on our way to the court. Everywhere we went, we got a lot of stares and whispers, something Tanja had to get used to from that day on.

What were the reactions of the boys?
When we stepped on the court and prepared to play, the boys on the other teams laughed and giggled. However, this did not last long as the mocking of many boys turned to tears when they realised that they had lost to what they considered weaker opponents.
I found it strange to experience that here, learned misogyny was taking place among 8-9-year-old boys. This strengthened my belief that maybe gender mixing tournaments was a brilliant concept, and would benefit both genders.

What was the opposing parents’ reaction?
In this account, it is essential not to forget that the basketball tournament held for children under 11 was not organised by KKÍ but by the clubs themselves, so there were no rules for gender segregation. Contrary to our expectations, the normative influence exerted pressure on us to conform to societal norms.
One of the most striking observations was the number of mothers who came to me, upset and disappointed that their sons had to endure the embarrassment of playing against our girls. Often unable to handle the issue directly, some blamed us for aggressive play and poor sportsmanship. But those who know my team well know that my players are incredibly mannered. However, this did not stop people from gradually starting to embellish the stories about the team. When it was no longer possible to blame the girls for poor behavior and foul play, I was ridiculed as a fool, accused of leading a cult, and labeled a crazy Eastern European coach. Attempts were made to discredit and undermine this experiment. Despite the release of the documentary “Raise the Bar,” which showcased the team’s success and proved the lies told about them, a certain group within the Icelandic sports, and people within the Icelandic academia persisted in trying to discredit the project. They routinely employed the strawman fallacy to distract us from the truth.

How rude to suddenly want to push yourself into a boy’s tournament?
When the girls turned 10, they had already been playing in boys’ tournaments for two years. The boys quickly adapted to playing against girls and regarded them as equals. It was clear to most that this was a great project. However, the fear of change, the need to reorder one’s worldview, and the fear of acknowledging outdated prejudices made the transition difficult for many.

How was the registration process?
What happened when the girls reached the age of 10, or the season of 2017-2018, is that KKÍ, for the first time in history, decided to have an Icelandic championship for 10-year-olds, meaning that for the first time, the tournaments would be facilitated and managed by KKÍ for that particular age group.
It’s noteworthy that there were numerous debates at the time regarding the fairness of mismatched teams playing and its potential harm to children’s declining interest in sports. Our girls’ team dominance was so significant that they exceeded the scorekeeping regulations set by KKÍ.

In the summer of 2018, it circulated that we wanted to play in the boys’ tournaments as we had done in the last two years with good results. I remember hearing how our idea was met with resistance within the basketball movement. I was astounded, but I understand the Association’s immature mindset and all the internal struggles that often arise in the movement. When we made the formal request, the Association stated it was impossible. We then asked for a meeting and were told it was impossible. The Association’s office noted that nothing related to the championship could be discussed before it was opened for registration two weeks before the tournament. We said it was awful since the boys’ and girls’ games were on the same weekend, and we needed clear answers, but KKÍ replied that there was nothing to be done about it.
Six weeks before the tournament, I called the KKÍ chairman to request a meeting about the issue but was told he could not meet me and to call back in two weeks.

In the autumn of 2018, we tried to arrange a meeting with the president of KKÍ, which was repeatedly postponed. Finally, when he found the time to meet with us, it was only two weeks before the scheduled event. At the meeting, he told us that KKÍ disapproved of the girls’ continued participation in the competition with the boys. We pointed out that nothing in the laws prohibited this mix and that the girls regularly filled up boys’ teams that were short of players. All of this was to no avail, and it was banned. I found it interesting that the president talked about this being such a drastic change that it needed to go before the KKÍ congress. We pointed out to him that it was not more extreme than girls already playing in these tournaments, just not as a complete girls’ team.

After the meeting, we had three lawyers draft a request to allow them to play and send it to all the board members to allow an exception. The request was well-argued and thorough.
The KKÍ board chose not to respond to the matter before the actual competition was held, which we learned is the go-to strategy for the chairman, KKÍ, and pretty much the whole sports authority in Iceland whenever they want to get out of an uncomfortable situation. KKÍ can silence, be indifferent, ignore, and stonewall with the best of them.
As a result, we took the girls to the girls’ tournament. The parents were unsatisfied with KKÍ’s attempts to stonewall the matter. As their team coach, I was dissatisfied with the non-response. As a coach, I wanted an explanation for my girls. I promised myself never to be codependent with people in power who are protecting an image, some over their friend’s wrongdoing or the status quo. It has always been that way, and will not cut it with me as a sufficient reason.

As a coach and mentor, I must constantly explain to my players what is happening. Tackling the issues head-on and thinking critically about what is going on matters most to me. Today I think of myself as a coach of character and morals long before basketball.

It was inevitable that we parents would need to be the standard and role model on these issues since female role models within the basketball community are hard to find. Remember, we are inheriting their culture.
I often find myself being conservative and wanting to follow the rules and regulations. As a coach, I want clear lines. But critical thinking overrides everything in my mind. Only dead fishes follow the stream. At that time, I had begun to see all the bullshit affecting women and girls and what lay ahead of them playing basketball within the KKÍ clubs. Persistent disrespect and lack of interest in the women’s game. The sports community is plagued by instances of sexual harassment by coaches, referees, and board members, with convicted sexual offenders, even being allowed to play for the national team in violation of the Icelandic Sports Association’s laws. Despite this, there is a glaring lack of discussion around one critical issue: the lack of empowerment for young girls to navigate and confront the challenges they face in the competitive sports environment.
Our girls also, who are fighting the power that be , need to learn that the sports media is primarily made up of enthusiastic bloggers and fans who may not have the necessary skills or independence to provide transparency and accountability regarding instances of corruption, misconduct, or abuse of power within the sports industry.

Therefore, from the get-go I started a Socratic mentoring approach emphasizing critical thinking and questioning. I found it incredibly important to teach my girls to be judicious and strengthen their emotional resilience to make changes.

The documentary film “Raise the Bar” thoroughly examines the aftermath of the denial of KKÍ. The film is mostly observatory, so many underlying philosophies behind the coaching are missing. What I found best about the film was how it clearly shows how the girls grew with each challenge and how easy it was for me, after the film’s screening, to explain how they grew in that environment and what challenges they faced. The film also describes how we, as elders, can continuously undermine the abilities of children or our abilities to influence them.

The reaction to the awareness campaign regarding our removal from the boys’ tournament caused a media frenzy. It resulted in the spread of false information on social media. KKÍ utilized 22 former and current national team coaches to discredit the campaign and falsely portrayed me as a cult leader who manipulated individuals into participating.

The frenzy reached its climax when I was invited for a radio interview on Akraborgin. On my way there, I was informed that the Chairman of KKÍ would also join me. The conversation was filled with twists and evasions from the Chairman, which reached its climax when he revealed to the audience that KKÍ’s inability to respond promptly was due to his health issues. I quickly realized that I had stepped into a political arena that I was not equipped to handle and had underestimated the complexity of the situation. As a result, I decided to subjugate myself to a self-imposed media ban until I felt confident enough to navigate the debate and until the release of a documentary film in production. This media ban lasted for 3.5 years.

What was covered in Raise The Bar?
– When the girls and their parents decided to go outside of the boys tournament to draw attention to the fact that they had been thrown out. It was called by some the cutest awareness campaign in history. The girls dribbled, danced, and collected signatures from the boys and their parents to challenge KKÍ to allow them to participate.
– When the so-called KKÍ coaches elite decided to condemn the girls’ awareness campaign, their statement was characterized by prejudiced opinions and unsupported accusations. Only two coaches have since issued public apologies for their involvement.
In 2019, the president of the IR Basketball Division and I decided to submit a proposal for a rule change that would’ve allowed gender mixing in the youngest age groups. However, the IR people then decided, without informing the parents of the IR girls, to not attend the meeting. The Basketball Association received the proposal but rejected it without discussion.
– When the girls chose not to accept their KKÍ gold medals and dropped them to the floor.

What is not covered in Raise The Bar?
– After the media storm that followed the demonstration, some parents attended a meeting with KKÍ, where KKÍ promised to form an equality committee to address the issue. At the last annual congress of KKÍ, Atli Grímsson from the Valur basketball club told us that this work had never started.
– The girls’ parents, who were anxious about pursuing the matter further after the response to their awareness campaign, were not mentioned. When the amendment proposal was rejected at the 2019 KKÍ congress, there was no official response from the parents.

What happened after filming on Raise The Bar ended ?
– After the medal drop half of the girls’ parents founded a new club, Athena, In the summer of 2019. To make a long story short, both ÍSÍ (The National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland)
and KKÍ tried to do everything in their power to stop the club’s progress.
– After the documentary came out at the beginning of 2021, it unleashed yet another media . This time is driven by the watchdogs of Iceland’s sports authority. It was interesting to see the panic that came to people who had been able to make unsubstantiated accusations about everything and everyone connected to our work. Even though all of a sudden, there was endless video footage and subsequent narratives to discredit the insolence of people who had an interest in our project being suffocated.
– After the premiere of Raise The Bar in February 2021, a congress of KKÍ was held. The Athena amendment proposal, which aimed to allow both genders to play together, was again brought to the table. In the days leading up to the congress, prominent basketball figures voiced their support for this change. During the parliamentary session, many people spoke in favor of gender mixing, and not a single person opposed it. There was some minor discussion about determining the age limit. Still, it was astonishing that even though 100% of the speakers favoured gender mixing, the proposal was still rejected by ⅔ of the votes. Cowardice and ignorance ultimately dictated the outcome. Many individuals have approached me, and the consensus among them is that it is too soon after the mistreatment of those who fought for gender mixing among the younger players. If the change were to occur quickly, it would reflect poorly on many in the movement.
– The girls have not received the recognition they deserve in their home country of Iceland. I have had the opportunity to attend exhibitions and discussions about Raise The Bar in several countries, which has been an incredible experience to observe the debate from a neutral standpoint. Since the film and images were released and displayed worldwide, the girls have received an outpouring of support and fan mail. The film is being used as educational material in schools in Canada and shown in schools and sports clubs in Finland. It is heartening to see that the girls have become legends among younger girls in girls’ basketball in Iceland. However, it is somewhat embarrassing for some of the older women basketball players to see their younger sisters fight for their rights. I have heard that girls’ basketball teams have been formed inspired by the film. The culture around girls in many Icelandic clubs has progressed for the better. The film has received numerous awards at film festivals around the world, particularly when children are part of the jury. It’s important to remember that without this film, the efforts of those involved in this fight may have gone unnoticed.

The developments in mixed-gender basketball play after the release of “Raise The Bar” are noteworthy. Despite KKÍ’s denial, there have been more instances of girls playing and performing well with boys despite that being disallowed l. An 8th-grade girl, a key player on the team, won a championship with a 9. grade boys team without KKÍ taking action. Everyone can see that the girls have won the fight. However, there seems to be a fear among the basketball elite of addressing this issue openly. A transparent and open discussion is necessary to permit gender mixing in the youngest age groups officially. The final step in this matter needs to be taken in the KKÍ assembly in March.