How can we become more like Iceland? That’s the question we should be asking. This sub-Arctic nation of only 330,000 people beat England at soccer, along with Argentina.
And the reason for its success? A national plan, introduced 20 years ago, to promote clean living. It was introduced in response to authoritative American research on how drinking, smoking and drugs were ruining young people’s lives. “Other nations probably saw that report too.” But Iceland acted on its recommendations. State funding was massively increased for sport, music and other activities that made youngsters feel part of a team; alcohol and tobacco ads were banned and age limits on their purchase raised; parents were encouraged to take a greater part in school life.
The consequent improvement in the health and motivation of Iceland’s teenagers has been “stunning”. Twenty years ago, they were among the heaviest-drinking in Europe; now they’re the cleanest-living: the number getting regularly drunk has dropped from 42% to 5%. And a byproduct of this social transformation has been Iceland’s astonishing rise of 100 places in Fifa’s world rankings. (Lesley RiddochThe Scotsman and The Week, June 23, 2018).
Years ago I was stranded in a snowstorm on Reykjavik airport on my way to London. Three whole days of non-stop partying ensued, with more alcohol than I had drunk in my previous life, shortish though that had been at the time. Snowstorm over and I was poured back onto the grounded plane with a memorable headache. Nothing about my brief stay had been moderate. The locals seemed at the time to party for a living. Nice people, pretty girls, but too much for me. I’m glad a Daddy Government drew the line and sorted them out. You can do that most easily in small, homogenous countries.