Sport in Iceland
Iceland is one of the most intriguing European countries. It is separated from the rest of the world by cold seas located just below the Arctic Circle, with a rather unobstructed landscape. The island is characterized by a very variable weather, which is usually commented in that way: "If you do not like the current weather, wait only five minutes", because even so short time is enough to weather has changed 180 degrees.
Violent winds, frequent rains and large variations of the length of day and night per year may seem tiring for visitors, but this unpredictability is yet another element that makes Iceland so special. The country is often referred to as a country of ice and fire for good reason: next to huge glaciers that occupy as many as 11% of the island's surface, smoke geysers, hot springs, and even active volcanoes. This brief description is very interesting, and even the remarkable inhabitants of Iceland haven’t been mentioned yet.
The country of sportsmen
Some facts to get you started. The total number of Icelandic inhabitants is just over 332 thousand, which is more or less equal to the number of inhabitants of Bydgoszcz. Among this number of Icelanders as many as tens of thousands belong to sports associations, which make up a nationwide sports association. Iceland's favorite sports include football and handball, badminton, skiing and horse riding. Sport in Iceland is taken very seriously and the promotion of physical activity begins at school. The role of Iceland in sport is also evident in the newspapers, where the sports section is very well developed and at the same time it is the most avidly read.
Speaking about sport in Iceland, it is impossible to start with any discipline other than football. The fact that more than 20,000 football players are registered in the Icelandic Football Association (isl. Knattspyrnusamband Íslands) should be enough evidence that Icelanders love this discipline. The fact that the total population of Iceland is just over 300,000 is only deepening the belief that football players represent 6% of the total population in Iceland.
However, it cannot be denied that most recently, Iceland (Iceland football tables) was not seen as a country of enthusiastic football players, and those less interested in this sport probably didn’t even know that the inhabitants of this isolated island of Europe, in general have their representation. However, after the events of Euro 2016 there is certainly no one in the football world who would treat Iceland so patronizingly. The team has not only moved up the rankings to a dozen places, but also won the hearts of fans throughout Europe and conquered the first pages of all sports magazines.
First and foremost, the team has persuaded everyone to think how this country, where there are twice as many sheep as people, could have delivered to the world football players who can knock England out of the quarter-finals of the European Championship.
Determination and good plan as a recipe for success
The conditions in Iceland are not favorable for playing football. There is no question of playing outdoors when winter and violent winds come that make with the ball what they want. Not to mention hard ground like concrete, uneven terrain and grass, which don’t grow regularly, but there are tufts of grass. So, therefore, there was so little information about their football achievements before the Icelanders had invested in sports infrastructure. However, the beginning of the 21st century was full of new Orlik and roofed pitches and more importantly, full-size pitches with artificial turf. The country has also invested in the training of trainers and thanks to this almost every young athlete is trained by a UEFA-licensed teacher. Not only does it improve the quality of training, but also guarantees that no talent will be overlooked by the untrained coach.
Currently, on this small island football amateurs have at their disposal more than 100 Orlik pitches and several covered full-size pitches, which allow playing football all year round, regardless of the weather. Icelandic stadiums are not the largest in the world, three out of nine don’t accommodate more than 1,500 people, but given the small population, we can talk with admiration about the sports infrastructure in the whole country. The largest stadium - Laugardalsvöllur - is located in Reykjavík, where national team matches and Icelandic cup matches are played. The facility has been rebuilt several times and can now accommodate 13,000 spectators. Other large-capacity stadiums can be found in Hafnarfjordur, Akranes and Kópavogur.
Same football matches have a very long tradition in Iceland. There has been an Icelandic football league since 1912 and Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur won the first championship and they still have been successful. There are also several other clubs that have been operating for many decades and most of them are concentrated in the capital of Iceland, which is hardly surprising, because more than 60% of all Icelanders live there. What is interesting, among the football clubs there are also many women's teams that organize their national championships.
And although in 2017 Iceland can boast such names as Eiður Guðjohnsen, Arnor Ingvi Traustason, Aron Einar Gunnarsson and Birkir Bjarnason, who are on the lists of European football players, most of the good players still treat football more like passion than as the way of life. You can find out that Iceland is a country of professional trainers and amateur athletes. Why? This is because many players come to training in the evening after a normal day’s work. They treat football as a fun or a form of relaxation as well as a sort of liberation of social potential. Still, there are a lot of football clubs in Iceland, less and more professional. The best and most popular teams are: Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur, Knattspyrnufélagið Fram, Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar or Ungmennafélagið Stjarnan.
Surprise for EURO 2016
After the review of the conditions under which the Icelandic players have improved their skills, you can look at their success in 2016 a little bit differently. We can consider them as a coincidence or an unlikely miracle. It is rather slow, but surely effective striving to fulfill dreams of a high position of representation in Iceland in European rankings. And, in 2011 the youth team gave the first signal that there was a promising new team in Europe. At that time, the national team up to 21 years of age took part in the European Championship for the first time.
And while the representatives of Italy, France or Portugal were dropped out of the championship in the very beginning, the young Icelanders have shown that investing in sports infrastructure at the beginning of the 21st century began to have positive results. They were in the semi-finals of the Champions League and they had literally missed only one goal. Nevertheless, they have shown that the senior team will soon be recognized among other people of Europe. That's what happened.
In 2016 Iceland turned out to be a real football epiphany. They were promoted after the last match not allowing to tension reliever before the match with the English and keeping their fans in suspense until the end. They drew with Portugal i.e. with the later European champion and Hungary and the beat Austrians 2-1. The biggest shock for all was the fact that the inconspicuous Iceland, which never achieved success in Europe in the field of football, kicked out of England, which was considered as one of the best football teams. In the quarter-finals the team met the hosts of the championship – France, and they ended the adventure with EURO 2016 with the result 2:5.
The name of the coach - Lars Lagerbaeck - was on the lips of everyone and it is hardly surprising - the coach helped Iceland's staff to climb from 131th position to 34th in the ranking FIFA. And, to honor the Swede and second trainer Heimir Hallgrimson, two new beers have been made: "Lars" and "Heimir", which Icelanders can continue to drink with enthusiasm to remember the 2016 football fever.
The joy of the Vikings, i.e. Iceandic chirking
When discussing football struggles of the Icelanders, it would be a sin to ignore the behavior of the fans. The support, which the Icelandic team received, is a dream for all the football clubs. First of all, almost 10% of the nation decided to go through the cold seas and fly to Europe in order to loudly cheer their team. The huge mobilization of the islanders is already impressive, but not as great as the stadium itself. The loud applause and the energetic clap that could be heard on the stands gave many goose bumps on both the opponents of Iceland and the whole stadium. The theory that this kind of doping was modeled on the war cry of the ancestors of Icelanders or Vikings is willingly repeated. Unfortunately, this is only a romantic myth that looks good in the media and the fans themselves are proud of it. In fact, Iceland took inspiration from the matches of Polish handball players and adapted this style of cheering to its tradition.
Beyond the characteristic applauses, there was huge joy in the stands, and the cheering of the Icelanders overshadowed the rest of the stadium. When we added to it the treatment of football players as national heroes, even after their return after the match, which they went down to France, it can be safely said that if a nation didn’t envy Iceland's success on the field, then that nation certainly would want to have such supporters.
Iceland has gained not only the respect of other champions in the European Championship, but also the hope that successive competitions will be even more successful. The benefit of the qualifying rounds is that the Icelandic Football Association's account has received large sums of money, which will inevitably be devoted to sports infrastructure and training for athletes. Thanks to the successfully completed match of EURO 2016, Iceland has gained not only the motivation to continue to fight and the huge cash injection for the players but also many new citizens! Nine months after the exciting championships, Icelandic hospitals recorded a record number of births. As you can see, the benefits of the national team's football successes can be different and they sometimes can be unexpected.
Ski, mountains and beautiful landscapes
But football is not everything. The second popular sport in Iceland's ranking is skiing, and next to it - other mountain activities. The interest in this discipline is so great that Icelandic Ski Association (Iceland Skíðasambands Íslands) is developing very well in Iceland, dealing with cross-country skiing, Norwegian combination, alpine skiing, free skiing and ski jumping.
Iceland has several points for skiers, the largest and most modern of which is located near Reykjavík Bláfjöll. It has 11 lifts, so the skiers have a choice of different slopes for each stage. Customers can enjoy night ski and snowboarding trails, as well as cross-country skiing trails.
In addition to traditional skiing, people on the island often go hiking, Nordic walking and cross-country skiing. Both terrain layout in Iceland and unique vegetation make the scenery breathtaking and, with the addition of amazing zoo, no one is surprised that people are so eager to march on the island. Mountain and glacier walks and polar zoo hunting are, of course, major tourist attractions, so you will probably find more visitors than native visitors on the trails.
Handball and badminton
Handball and badminton enjoys great popularity in Iceland. In the field of handball, Iceland's staff can boast of fantastic matches at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Iceland received a silver medal, losing to the French team in the final. They also achieved success at the European Championships, winning a bronze medal in 2010, and in 2014 taking over fifth place. Apart from professionals in Iceland, there are many amateurs, so the sports fields are full of handball fans. Many Icelanders also play badminton and the players of this sport are in this small country more than eight thousand.
Let the horses decide
Icelanders, apart from football and handball or skiing, i.e. popular sports in most European countries, are very often interested in horse riding. Here, it’s a good moment to briefly outline the role that horses play in the Icelandic awareness. Once they were considered as sacred animals, they are present in many myths and pastimes, and horse riding courses and contests are now called Nordic mythological names. Up to now, many Icelanders have several horses and over 10,000 horses in the Reykjavik area.
Viking descendants can boast of their own race of Icelandic horses. Although they are as small as ponies, they are recorded as horses. Iceland's law prohibits the import of horses into the island, and those animals that have already been exported cannot return. Thanks to these precautions horses kept blood purity and avoided many diseases that could contribute to the extinction of the entire species. The biggest advantage of the breed is its mild character. Icelandic horses are so calm and short enough that even a person who has never sat in a saddle may opt for a long walk. They are used by travel agencies, and the tourists themselves are fascinated by the opportunity to explore this fascinating island on horseback. What is interesting, despite this adoration for horses, the inhabitants of Iceland have no resistance to eating horse and even produce enough meat to export it to other countries.
Long ago, horses were an inseparable part of the lives of Icelanders and mainly because they were only able to get through the uninhabited middle of the island or through the glaciers. Horses were so important to the Icelanders that it was not uncommon for them to be buried next to killed rider. Over time, horses have lost a bit of importance, but now horse riding is getting popular again and more and more schools of horse riding are establishing and travel agencies are increasingly placing their horse riding tours on offer.
Island of ice, fire and sportsmen
Icelanders are just as intriguing as the island they inhabit. They have hot hearts and they are so keen to sports, but at the same time they can coldly analyze the reality and effectively pursue the goal. Their persistence best show the success of the players. Large investments in sports infrastructure and training of trainers certainly overtook Iceland's budget and did not produce results at all. However, the Icelandic patients have been waiting patiently for the benefits of these changes and now, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, they can enjoy what they have earned.