Sport in Sweden
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Sport is considered a national pastime in Sweden, and about half of the population actively takes part in sports activities. The most important all-embracing organisations for sports in Sweden are the Swedish Sports Confederation, and the Swedish Olympic Committee. In total over 2 million people (about 20% of the total population) are members of a sports club.
The sports with most participants are handball, football, golf, gymnastics and athletics, while the sports with the largest number of television spectators are football, ice hockey, handball, bandy, golf, motor sport (especially speedway) and athletics. Ice hockey and football are the main sports. Winter sports are also popular, both in the number of participants and in spectators, while floorball gained large popularity in the 1990s amongst participants, spectators really grew in the last 5 years to outnumber other team sports amongst the spectators. Other popular sports include bandy, basketball, orienteering, tennis and table tennis. Except for basketball, the American sports have not gained much popularity, although American football and baseball are practised.
The Swedish sport movement can be traced back to the early 19th century and the Pehr Ling gymnastics, a recreational movement that would keep its position as the largest fitness activity in Sweden many years into the 20th century. It was also the main sport activity practiced in schools through half that century. The sport movement took its first steps in the 1880s and 90s, when for example football, bandy and athletics took its first steps in Sweden towards becoming modern sports.
The first public orienteering competition in Sweden was held in 1981 (see history of orienteering). Today, orienteering is one of the most popular sports in Sweden, attracting more than 100,000 runners.
Prominent athletes and teams
For an average sized nation, Sweden has top results in many different sports.
Bandy has a special status in Sweden, enjoying almost a cult following by some of its supporters.
Some current internationally acclaimed football players from Sweden include Rasmus Elm, Johan Elmander, and Zlatan Ibrahimović. Historically acclaimed football stars include the trio of players known as Gre-No-Li, who still enjoy legendary status for Italy's Milan. Gre-No-Li were the 1950s football players called Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, and Nils Liedholm. Other previously active footballs stars include Henrik Larsson, Glenn Strömberg and Fredrik Ljungberg.
The Swedish national football team has seen some success at the World Cup, finishing second when they hosted the tournament in 1958, and third twice, in 1950 and 1994. Their best showing in the European Football Championship came as Sweden hosted 1992 European Football Championship. They reached the semi-finals. Something Swedes are proud of is that England did not defeat Sweden from 1968 until 2011. Revered in Italy and England is Sven-Göran Eriksson, the Swede who led the English national team until his resignation after the 2006 FIFA World Cup. They also hosted the UEFA U-21 European Championships in 2009, losing out in the semi-finals on penalties against England. Only one Swedish team has ever won the UEFA Cup — IFK Göteborg — who won in 1982 and 1987. Back in 1979, Malmö FF reached the final of the 1978-79 European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League), but they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in Munich.
The men's national hockey team has won the World Championships nine times, and Olympic gold medals in 1994 and 2006. The women's national hockey team won bronze medals in the 2002 Winter Olympics and the 2005 Women's World Ice Hockey Championships, and a silver medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Famous Swedish NHL hockey players include Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidström, Markus Näslund, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Börje Salming, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Bäckström, Henrik Lundqvist, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Patrik Berglund, Thomas Steen, Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, Håkan Loob, Mats Näslund, Kent Nilsson, Erik Karlsson, and Pelle Lindbergh.
Sweden have won 4 world championships (WC) (1954, 1958, 1990, 1999) and hold, along with Romania and France, the record number of titles. They have also won 3 WC silver (1964, 1997, 2001), 4 WC bronze (1938, 1961, 1993, 1995), 4 European championship gold (1994, 1998, 2000, 2002) and 4 Olympic silver medals (1992, 1996, 2000, 2012). The Swedish National Handball team is considered to be the most successful in the history of the sport. Famous Swedish handball players include: Magnus Wislander, Stefan Lövgren, Staffan Olsson, Peter Gentzel, Ola Lindgren, Tomas Svensson, Kim Andersson, Mattias Andersson, Marcus Ahlm, Jonas Källman, Kim Ekdahl Du Rietz and Magnus Jernemyr.
Basketball has gained attention in Sweden through a series of internationally significant events. In 1999, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, one of the best basketball players in world history, bought the club M7 Borås and played several games there.
Later, several Swedish basketball teams competed at international tournaments.
Ten years after Magic Johnson's first games in Sweden, Jonas Jerebko became the first Swede to play in the NBA. In 2012, Jeffery Taylor, the second swedish player followed. They both represented Sweden at the 2013 EuroBasket and secured a surprising victory against former Champion Russia. Yet, they were not enough to help their country proceed from the preliminary round.
"Swedish football" in the nineteenth century was a variant of association football with some rugby elements. By 1900, Swedish football clubs were using The Football Association's rules with no rugby influence. However, rugby union proper was introduced into Sweden between the world wars by visiting British vessels.
In skiing sports, Ingemar Stenmark, Pernilla Wiberg and Anja Pärson have all dominated alpine skiing at some point, and so have Sixten Jernberg, Gunde Svan and Thomas Wassberg in cross-country skiing. In ski jumping, Jan Boklöv revolutionised the sport with his new V-style technique. In biathlon Magdalena Forsberg was the dominant female athlete in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while Helena Ekholm has been one of the top competitors in recent years.
Track and field
A number of Swedes have been internationally successful in track and field. In the 1940s runners Gunder Hägg, Arne Andersson, and Lennart Strand dominated middle distance running. In recent years, stars include high jumpers such as World Champion and European record holder Patrik Sjöberg, Olympic gold medalist Ludmila Engquist, World Champion and Olympic medalist Kajsa Bergqvist, and Athens Olympic gold medalist Stefan Holm. Two other Swedish athletes won gold medals in the 2004 Olympic Games: heptathlete Carolina Klüft and triple jumper Christian Olsson. Susanna Kallur is the World record holder for the indoor 60m hurdles set in 2008.
Other famous Swedish athletes include the heavyweight boxing champion and International Boxing Hall of Famer - Ingemar Johansson; Olympic gold medal-winning fencer Johan Harmenberg; World Golf Hall of Famer - Annika Sörenstam and multiple World Championships and Olympics medalist in table tennis - Jan-Ove Waldner.
Arne Borg, Gunnar Larsson, Anders Holmertz, Stefan Nystrand, Therese Alshammar, Anna-Karin Kammerling, Emma Igelström and Lars Frölander are some of the renowned swimmers, who have been successful in Olympics and/or World Championships. Notable in motorsports are: Two time DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) and Race of Champions winner Mattias Ekström, Multiple Speedway World Champion Tony Rickardsson; British Touring Car Champion Rickard Rydell and the IRL and Indy 500 champion Kenny Bräck, F1 Grand Prix winners Ronnie Peterson, Jo Bonnier and Gunnar Nilsson, and the rally drivers Björn Waldegård (who won the World Rally Championship in 1979, the Safari Rally in 1977, the Monte Carlo Rally in 1969 and 1970 as well as the British RAC Rally in 1977) and Stig Blomqvist (the 1984 World Rally Champion), and Erik Carlsson (Rally Hall of Fame inductee who won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1962 and 1963).
In cycling Sweden has the 1971 Giro winner Gösta Pettersson, two-time Giro runner up Tommy Prim, 2004 Paris–Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt as well as several other top professional cyclists including current riders Emma Johansson, Thomas Lövkvist, Gustav Larsson, Fredrik Kessiakoff and Emilia Fahlin.
Although basketball is a relatively minor sport in Sweden, the country has two native-born players in the North American NBA—Jonas Jerebko of the Detroit Pistons and Jeffery Taylor of the Charlotte Hornets. It should be noted that both are the sons of American basketball players; Jerebko's father played NCAA Division I basketball, and Taylor's father played in the NBA. In addition, the younger Taylor moved to the U.S. at age 17 and played there in both high school and college.
Electronic sports are also gaining momentum in Sweden since the launch of StarCraft II with Swedish national televisions covering Dreamhack events throughout the year. Notable names are Jonathan Walsh aka Jinro for his performances South Korea, Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi for being one of the top Swedish money earners during 2011 and Emil Christensen more known as Heaton for being one of the foremost Counter-Strike players in the history of the game.
Another sport growing in interest in Sweden is mixed martial arts. Arguably the most famous fighter out of Sweden is Alexander Gustafsson, who is rapidly approaching a title shot in the light heavyweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. As of December 2012, Gustafsson is ranked the #6 light heavyweight in the world by Sherdog. He is headlining the UFC's next show in Sweden, UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Mousasi, which sold out in hours on the first day tickets were made available to the public.
The greatest spectator sports in Sweden are football (Allsvenskan) and ice hockey (Swedish Hockey League). Handball and floorball come close, together with regional specialties such as bandy and speedway. There are a dozen indoor arenas for bandy.
International championships hosted by Sweden
- Open to everyone
- Open to elite only
- Elite leagues