Birth - Death
Anja Andersen revolutionized the sport of handball through her development of a unique style of play that mesmerized the audience and conquered her opponents. In the process, she single-handedly rescued the sport from oblivion and made it one of the top spectator sports in Europe.
Andersen had a strong and forceful personality from an early age when she started playing handball. Part of this was driven by the fact she always felt marginalized by the conservative Danish society around her. She knew that she was different, not only in terms of sexual preference but also in personality, and she constantly battled the more repressive elements of her social networks of school and community around her.
When she took up the sport of handball in the early 1990s, Anja Andersen was entering a deeply conservative sport that was in decline in terms of popularity. This presented a unique opportunity for her as an individual to make her mark. Her strong personality soon took charge and was matched by her impressive skills in the sport.
Anderson insists that it was basketball and the showmanship of the Harlem Globetrotters that greatly influenced her early days of playing. She adopted the team’s style of showmanship aimed at the audience rather than the opposing team. Soon, her reputation grew and crowds surged to see her in action – and they were not disappointed.
Andersen immediately climbed the ranks of professional players and brought her Danish teams with her, including the National Team of which she was a member. This was not without a great deal of controversy, however. Her strong personality and showmanship led to many expulsions during high profile matches, and calls by many in the sport to temper her aggressive, though impressive, style of play. For example, she was briefly banned from the 1996 Olympic Games because of her outbursts on the court.
Nevertheless, her string of accomplishments is daunting. She led her National Team to European silver in 1993, to gold in 1994, and to World Championship bronze in 1995. This was followed by a gold medal performance in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Subsequently, she went on to European gold in 1996 and World gold in 1997. She was named World Player of the Year in 1997, being the only Danish female player to win this honour.
A diagnosed heart condition in 1999 forced her early retirement. However, rather than retire from the sport, she transitioned to coaching and led her team to European Champions League victory in 2004, 2005, and 2007. In addition, she has worked as a commentator for the sport with televised games.
Andersen has made no secret of her sexual orientation and indeed has often publicly stated that her aggressive style of play is an outlet for her frustration with the public’s conservative, and often hostile, reaction to the LGBTQ community. She remarks that she has always been the target of vicious texts and open insults, both on and off the court. Andersen also freely discusses her frustration with the sporting world, arguing that the profession is dominated by men and has an in-grown bias to the equality of women.
Once again, this situation becomes her rallying point when she is on the court or coaching her teams to victory – an outlet for her personal frustrations.
Can we allow room for personal aggressiveness and controversy in sport that emanates from marginalization and social out-casting? This is a hot topic in sports today witnessed, for example, by the reaction of the public and media to professional NBA players sporting personal messages of support on uniforms for protestors in recent race riots in the United States. As writer and activist Paulo Senra has recently argued, sports players are human, and as such, have personal lives and opinions that deserve to be respected and voiced. The advancement of LGBTQ rights rests heavily on the ability of members of the community to continually speak up. Shouldn’t they be able to use their own sport as a platform to achieve equality for themselves and other LGBTQ members?