cometh the hour…
With an anticipated twenty million of us tuning-in to watch the home team play our first knock-out-round match in over a decade, it’s safe to say Russia’s 2018 world cup has been a success. And even though they went out at the group stage, with a pretty ignominious one-point from a 1-1 draw with Argentina, I’d also like to highlight that this year’s tournament was another huge success for our North Sea neighbours, Iceland. As we learned to our cost in Euro 2016, this tiny sub-Arctic nation of only 330,000 people (barely three times the capacity of Wembley stadium) and part-time players, continue to punch above their weight. Exactly how are they able to do this?
It turns out an interventionist national plan was devised some twenty years ago and has been rolled-out with a clinical execution. Back then, the state deemed teenagers’ lives were being blighted by boozing, smoking and doing drugs and decided to do something positive to change this. Direct funding for sport, music, drama and other ‘team oriented’ activities was massively increased. Junk food, alcohol and tobacco ads were non-negotiably banned from TV, and purchase-age-limits raised. Parents were actively encouraged to take more interest in school life and publically chided when they didn’t.
The impact on the health, condition and motivation on the nation’s younger generations has been nothing short of miraculous. Once the heaviest-drinkers in Europe, they’re now the lightest, with the number of teenagers getting regularly drunk falling from over 40% to less than 5%. Sport participation numbers have rocketed and as a byproduct Iceland’s Fifa world ranking has moved from a low of 131 to a high of 18. Well, who’d a’ thunked it? Mind, their music still sounds like a dire Bjork war chant!