Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


Two figures that help explain Iceland's ability to punch above its weight in soccer

By Staff

  • Watching the game Icelanders take sports very seriously. Photo/Fréttablaðið

Iceland's success at soccer has caught the attention of the world. With a population of just 340,000 people Iceland is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup. While Iceland was knocked out of the competition during the first stage, everyone expects we will be back: Iceland ranks 22 in the FIFA world ranking. 

But what explains the remarkable success?

Commentators around the world have looked to all kinds of explanations. Explanations range from the Viking ancestry, the difficult weather and harsh conditions that have toughened the players, the geothermal hot water and heated pitches to the Icelandic diet. However, any attempt to understand the success of Iceland must take into account the public commitment to sports.

1: Icelanders attend more sports events than all but one European nation

According to figures from Statistics Iceland, more than half (51.4%) of Icelanders attended at least one sports event in 2015 (the latest figures), the second highest ratio in Europe. Only in the Netherlands did people attend more sports events (53.6%). The European average is 30.5%.

Icelanders were also second most likely to attend more than 4 events: A third (31.9% ) of Icelanders attended at least four events in 2015. The European average is 13.7%.

Only in four European countries did more than half of the population attend at least one sports event in 2015, the Netherlands, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Finland and Sweden came in sixth and seventh. 

2: More Icelanders work in sports than any other European nation

Sports are a big business in Iceland: 2.3% of the work force is employed in the sports sector, a higher proportion than in any other European country. Sweden comes closest, with 1.53%. The European average is 0.76%.

Statistics Iceland notes that out of the ten European countries where the largest share of the workforce is employed in sports, five competed in the World Cup: Iceland, Sweden, Britain, Spain, Denmark and Portugal.

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