Every four years over a billion fans tune in watch 32 nations compete in the World Cup, the most watched sporting event in the world. Soccer/football is the most popular sport with our students and staff and you can catch students playing a sunset game many days on a field near our schools. This year’s World Cup is in Russia, and includes 5 teams from Africa.
Iceland is surprising us all and making waves this year with its first World Cup appearance. It’s the smallest country to ever qualify with a population of 340,000 (just 3% of the population of New York City!). To put that into perspective, the next smallest country to qualify was Trinidad and Tobago in 2006 with 1.3 million people. Iceland began their unlikely journey by beating England in the semifinals of the Euro Cup in 2016 and then solidified their spot by defeating Kosovo in October 2017 of the European Championships. Iceland has slowly been putting itself on the map in the soccer world contrary to the prior belief that they were too small to ever be on this world stage. The road to the World Cup began almost 20 years earlier when the country focused on providing quality coaches and access to everyone regardless of the ability and socio-economic status. The surprisingly easy access that players had to training facilities and top-rate coaching allowed them to continue their training regardless of the size of their town or the bad weather outside.
Iceland’s cast of characters is made up of an unlikely bunch, and coach Hallgrimsson, a part-time dentist, is asked about this in every media encounter. He began a press conference at the World Cup by saying, “before anyone asks, I’m still a dentist and I will never stop being a dentist.” The goal keeper is a movie director that has put his career on hold, but was behind the a World Cup Coca-Cola commercial that includes the famous thunderclap.
The more I read about the team, the more I see consistent themes and messages on why they are successful: laying the groundwork, hard work paying off, believing in yourself and believing that you deserve to be there.
These are lessons we try to instill in our students every day. While Iceland and its glaciers, hot springs and fjords could not be more different than our farming villages in rural Zambia, I can’t help but notice that at first glance, someone might overlook our students or think our villages are too remote or rural. Much like Iceland, most people don’t know much about Zambia. It is our collective responsibility to put Zambia on the map and share the stories of our amazing students and staff. With access to quality education paired with hard work and believing in themselves, our students have the opportunity to become the next teachers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs – and hopefully even, soccer stars at the World Cup.
Most of the world has celebrated the Iceland soccer story but the odds of them making it out of their group stage were small. However, on Saturday Iceland had a draw 1-1 with favorite Argentina, surprising the world and overcoming the odds once again. I hope Iceland and our students in Zambia keep surprising the world and blowing past the world’s perceptions!