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Sport is something that is the same all over the world. People from all different countries can meet across boarders and compete against each other. Whatever politics different countries have when the players get on the pitch, pist, field or pool most of that, if not all is left behind them.
There are of course lots of things about sport that differ between the different cultures and nations, for example: the amount of training, expectations and views on sport, relationships to trainers and coaches, the futures of the athletes, the competition within the own country etc.
Sweden is a country with a small population, which means that the competition isn’t as tough as in a lot of other countries. Furthermore there isn’t the same winning culture as is found in other parts of the world. Children in Sweden are encouraged to do a sport for the social and health benefits. Winning is not the most important thing, having fun, getting to know new people and developing as a person and team are what most focus is put on. You will notice this clearly in preschools, elementary schools and if you ever get the chance to visit a Swedish family you will most likely hear parents telling their children the same thing too. “The most important thing isn’t to win, it is to have fun”. In Swedish that would be “Det viktigaste är inte att vinna utan att ha roligt”.
It can be discussed whether putting full focus on people-skills is the best thing or not, maybe having a strong winning culture produces better results overall. However, Sweden is in no way lacking of althetes at international level. Many Swedes have actually set new world records, inspiring other athletes to do the same. Some of these famous figures are amongst others:
Björn Borg (tennis player)
Peter Forsberg (ice hockey player)
Johan Harmenberg (epée fencer)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (football player)
Hanna Ljungberg (football player)
Henrik Larsson (football player)
Carolina Klüft (track and field)
Ingmar Stenmark (Slalom and giant slalom skier)
Another difference between Sweden and many other countries is the system in which sport is organised. Unlike many countries where you sport for a school, university or company in Sweden almost all sport takes place in independent clubs. The clubs have members of almost all ages, from the youngest at about 6 or 7 years old to the seniors who can be up to 60 or 70 years of age. You pay membership fees and practice usually takes place in the evening during the weekdays and in the morning on weekends so that people who work don’t need to take off work, the same going for students not having to take off school.
Sweden doesn’t have any afterschool clubs and the phenomenon of playing for a school hardly exists. That means that Swedish schools don’t have sports festivals either. Instead most schools have what is called a friluftsdag (fri = free, luft = air, dag = day, shortly translated to outdoors day). They have these days two times per year ie. once per term, in which the students usually get to choose between a couple of activities like skiing, swimming, football, volleyball or the very typically Swedish innebandy (which is like floor ball in many ways).
One last interesting phenomenon about sport in Sweden is the strict “no alcohol or drugs” policy. In Sweden sport is associated with good health, taking care of your body. It is therefore seen as being a bad role model if you smoke, drink or do drugs, especially if you are a professional athlete competing for Sweden.