Sunday, February 26, 2006

Super Bowl of Scandinavia

It’s our national sport, so the Olympic hockey gold medal 2006 is the greatest of them all. Here in Sweden, where ice hockey has near-religious status, anything the national hockey team does dominate newspaper front pages. When Peter Forsberg scored the goal that won Sweden the first Olympic ice hockey gold medal in 1994 the moment was immortalized forever on a postage stamp.

Actually any big sports event is a national happening in Sweden. This time around four million Swedes, nearly half the population, watched Sweden beat Finland with 3-2.

It struck me that Sweden is, despite being only 9 million people, a very successful nation in international sports. Have a look at this chart that show medals won in the 2006 winter Olympics:

In fact, Sweden ranks seventh in the entire Olympic medals table with a total of 550 medals, of which 170 gold.

Innovation? No, grass root tradition! (or “folk movement” as we say) Almost half of Sweden’s seven million residents between the ages of 7 and 70 are members of a sports club – as active competitors, keep-fitters, leaders, trainers or supporters. Some two million of these are active sportsmen and women. About 7 000 belong to the elite; that is, they compete at national championship level.

Despite the large numbers of sports at high levels, Sweden still does not have any professional leagues or series. It’s a hundred year old grass root-based sports movement, with many local clubs and high degree of voluntary involvement. I don’t know of any similar democratic, independent popular movement outside of the Nordic countries.

And by the way, the Swedish municipalities contribute by far the greatest portion of the support provided by society, bearing the operating costs for sports facilities as well as providing direct funding. Sponsors provide about 15–20 percent of sports’ total financing, excluding the value of the unpaid efforts of coaches etc.


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