Sport in Sweden

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 football, equestrian sports, handball, 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.

Popular recreational sports and activities include brännboll (popular in schools), boule, kubb, skiing, swimming, gymnastics, walking, running, cycling, dancing, singing and hunting.


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.[1]


Unlike the United States, organized sports even for younger people isn't connected to schools the same way. Also, many sports club in Sweden compete in more sports than one.[2]

Prominent athletes, teams and competitions

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. The annual national bandy championship final is a traditional event followed not only by the usual bandy fans. Sweden is one of the leading bandy playing nations, having won the Bandy World Championship and the Women's Bandy World Championship a number of times. Bandy is a Hockey-like game played with a small ball and short Field Hockey sticks.


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 CupIFK 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.

Ice hockey

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.

The Swedish Hockey League was founded in 1975. Counting from 1922, when the first Swedish championships were played, Djurgårdens IF is the most successful team with 16 championship titles, followed by Brynäs IF with 13, then as Färjestad BK and IK Göta with 9.

Rugby League Football

Rugby League Football is played at a local/amateur level, the sport has real promise of growth at a rapid pace in all Nordic Countries. Sweden is currently ranked 31 on the RLIF rankings.


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 person born and raised in Sweden 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.

It should be noted that both Jerebko and Taylor are sons of American basketball players who settled in Sweden after finishing their professional careers in the country, and Taylor left Sweden at age 17 to play both high school and college basketball in the U.S. Jerebko has played seven seasons in the NBA, first with the Detroit Pistons (2009–14) and currently with the Boston Celtics (2014–present). Taylor played three seasons with the Charlotte Hornets (2012–15) before returning to Europe and signing with Real Madrid.

Rugby union

Main article: Rugby union in Sweden

"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.

Electronic sports

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 "Jinro" Walsh for his performances South Korea, and Marcus "Thorzain" Eklöf and Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi for being two of the top non-Korean players during 2011-2013.[3]

Swedish players have also been successful in other competitive video games. The Alliance won The International for Dota 2 in 2013, winning ~$1.4 million USD.[4][5] Sweden was the highest ranking country in terms of results and prize money won in Counter-Strike.[6] Emil "HeatoN" Christensen and Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg were two of the foremost players in the history of the game, both of whom later became involved in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team "Ninjas in Pyjamas".[7]


Nine Swedish golf players have been selected to the European team at the Ryder Cup: Joakim Haeggman, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Jesper Parnevik, Robert Karlsson, Jarmo Sandelin, Pierre Fulke, Niclas Fasth, Peter Hanson and Henrik Stenson. Stenson won the PGA Tour FedEx Cup and European Tour race to Dubai in 2013. Parnevik was twice runner-up in the British Open and Fasth once.

Annika Sörenstam is a World Golf Hall of Fame member, with ten major tournament wins and 72 LPGA Tour wins. Other notable female players are Anna Nordqvist, Helen Alfredsson, Sophie Gustafson, Maria Hjorth, Carin Koch and Liselotte Neumann.

The Scandinavian Masters is part of the European Tour since 1991. Previously, the circuit sanctioned the Scandinavian Enterprise Open was held from 1973 to 1990 and the PLM Open from 1986 to 1990.

Meanwhile, the Scandinavian TPC hosted by Annika was part of the Ladies European Tour from 1996 to 2008. The country hosted other LET events, as well as the 2003 and 2007 Solheim Cup.


Three Swedish Formula One drivers have collected wins: Ronnie Peterson, Jo Bonnier and Gunnar Nilsson. Peterson scored ten wins and was runner-up in the F1 World Championship in the 1971 and 1978 seasons.

In rallying, Björn Waldegård won the World Rally Championship in 1979, the Safari Rally in 1977, 1984, 1986, 1990, the Monte Carlo Rally in 1969 and 1970, as well as the British RAC Rally in 1977. Stig Blomqvist won the 1984 WRC. Also, Erik Carlsson won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1962 and 1963.

Other notable drivers 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 champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Bräck.

The Swedish Rally, first held in 1950, is part of the World Rally Championship since 1973. Meanwhile, the Anderstorp Raceway hosted the Formula One Swedish Grand Prix from 1973 to 1978, the Swedish motorcycle Grand Prix from 1971-1977 and 1981-1990, the European Touring Car Championship from 1985-1987, the Superbike World Championship in 1991 and 1993, the FIA GT Championship in 2002 and 2003, and the World Touring Car Championship in 2007.


Successful tennis players include former world No. 1's Björn Borg, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, and nine time Grand Slam Doubles winner Jonas Björkman.

Other famous Swedish athletes include the heavyweight boxing champion and International Boxing Hall of Famer - Ingemar Johansson; Olympic gold medal-winning fencer Johan Harmenberg; 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, Lars Frölander and Sarah Sjöström are some of the renowned swimmers, who have been successful in Olympics and/or World Championships.

Sweden has also been internationally successful in equestrian (Malin Baryard, Rolf-Göran Bengtsson) and speed-skating (Tomas Gustafson).

In cycling Sweden has the 1971 Giro winner Gösta Pettersson, two-time Giro runner up Tommy Prim, 2004 Paris–Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt and 1976 Olympic road race champion Bernt Johansson as well as several other top professional cyclists including current riders Emma Johansson, Thomas Lövkvist, Gustav Larsson, Fredrik Kessiakoff and Emilia Fahlin.

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.[8] 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.[9]

Spectator sports

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

Year Championship Venue(es)
1912 Summer Olympics Stockholm
1934 Nordic World Ski Championships Sollefteå
1949 World Ice Hockey Championships Stockholm
1954 World Handball Championship ?
1954 World Ice Hockey Championships Stockholm
1954 Nordic World Ski Championships Falun
1956 Equestrian at the 1956 Summer Olympics Stockholm
1958 European Athletics Championships Stockholm
1958 Football World Cup Borås, Eskilstuna, Gothenburg, Halmstad, Helsingborg, Malmö, Norrköping, Sandviken, Stockholm, Uddevalla, Västerås, Örebro
1961 Biathlon World Championships Umeå
1963 World Ice Hockey Championships Stockholm
1967 World Handball Championship ?
1969 World Ice Hockey Championships Stockholm
1970 World Ice Hockey Championships Stockholm
1970 Biathlon World Championships Östersund
1974 European Athletics Indoor Championships Gothenburg
1974 Nordic World Ski Championships Falun
1980 Nordic World Ski Championships Falun
1981 World Ice Hockey Championships Gothenburg, Stockholm
1984 European Athletics Indoor Championships Gothenburg
1986 Biathlon World Championships Falun
1989 World Ice Hockey Championships Stockholm, Södertälje
1989 European Volleyball Championship Stockholm, Örebro
1992 European Football Championship Gothenburg, Malmö, Norrköping, Stockholm
1993 World Handball Championship Gothenburg, Halmstad, Stockholm, Uddevalla
1993 Nordic World Ski Championships Falun
1995 World Championships in Athletics Gothenburg
1995 Women's Football World Cup Gävle, Helsingborg, Karlstad, Stockholm, Västerås
1996 European Athletics Indoor Championships Stockholm
2002 Ice Hockey World Championship Gothenburg, Jönköping, Karlstad
2003 European Basketball Championship Borås, Luleå, Norrköping, Stockholm, Södertälje
2006 European Athletics Championships Gothenburg
2008 Biathlon World Championships Östersund
2009 European Under-21 Football Championship Gothenburg, Halmstad, Helsingborg, Malmö
2011 World Handball Championship Gothenburg, Jönköping, Kristianstad, Linköping, Lund, Malmö, Norrköping, Skövde
2012 Ice Hockey World Championship Stockholm (along with Helsinki, Finland)
2013 European Athletics Indoor Championships Gothenburg
2013 Ice Hockey World Championship Stockholm (along with Helsinki, Finland)
2013 Women's European Football Championship Gothenburg, Halmstad, Kalmar, Linköping, Norrköping, Stockholm, Växjö
2015 2015 Women's Ice Hockey World Championships Malmö 2015 Nordic World Ski Championships Falun
2019 Biathlon World Championships Östersund


See also

Media related to Sports in Sweden at Wikimedia Commons


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