Danish merchants and Icelandic officials interested in shooting established Iceland’s first sports association, Reykjavig Skydeforening, in 1867. More clubs were subsequently established in the , dedicated to particular sports, such as Icelandic wrestling (), swimming and football. However, it was not until modelled on those of other Nordic countries were established after the turn of the century that the pursuit of sports became interwoven with the Icelandic independence movement.
In the winter of 1904-05, Jóhannes (1883–1968) was studying in , where he was introduced to , the Norwegian youth association movement on Norway’s western coast. That same winter, Þórhallur (1881–1961) was studying at the in , Denmark, where he became familiar with N.F.S. ’s nationalist philosophy. After returning to Iceland, these two men joined forces, along with others, to establish (the “Akureyri Youth Association”) early in 1906. The aim of the association was to promote the patriotic sentiment of Icelanders aged 15 to 30; to further their social development; to get them to cultivate their national heritage; to inculcate , abstinence and pride in their own blue and white Icelandic flag. These goals were pursued by means of regular meetings and lectures, and organizing sports and other events that could further the spiritual and physical development of the association’s members. A tradition of concluding meetings with gymnastics or glíma developed, and as time went on, sports became one of the most important elements of this and other Icelandic youth associations’ activities.
The model of the Akureyri Youth Association spread to other regions, and in 1907 Ungmennafélag Íslands (the “Alliance of Youth Associations”) was established at Thingvellir, in conjunction with a visit by the Danish king. On this occasion, it was decided to hold a special glíma event in honour of the king; the blue and white flag that had been raised at the youth associations’ camping area was seen as a provocation of the king and caused considerable political tension.
After preparatory discussions, the first countrywide annual competition, at which members from around the whole country could compete in various fields, was held in , on June 17, 1909 (the birthday of Jón ). Two years later, when Icelanders celebrated the centenary of Jón Sigurðsson’s birth, the National Tournament was held for the first time in the form of a nine-day competition. A similar tournament was held at the same time three years later, and although there would be long intervals between subsequent tournaments, it is clear that sports influenced the choice of 17 June as Iceland’s National Day when, in 1944, Iceland declared independence from Denmark.