Swedish sportsmanship: May the best win

The Swedish people have a strong culture of soccer, where true sportsmanship reigns supreme - may the best win!

Swedish sportsmanship: May the best win

The Swedish people have a strong soccer culture where true sportsmanship reigns supreme - may the best win!

A passionate love of horses, nature, hunting and soccer are essential ingredients of Swedish culture. The strong affinity for the sport dates back to its introduction in 1870. It was love at first sight.

Although ice hockey approaches soccer popularity, the game with the ball still has the most supporters. Fans feel a tremendous connection to their clubs, the players, and each other. They share joys and sorrows. Supporters buy shirts and memorabilia to express their admiration for the team and the game.

Fan clubs are formed, which are a second family to their members. A club like Stockholm's Hammarby draws supporters from all over the country, who gather when their Green Lions play a home game. Sometimes conflicts arise between different fan clubs because of the outcome of a match. But once the Swedish team is playing, fans bury their controversies. Swedes unite and root for their national squad.

In Sweden, soccer has become a source of communal bonding, health, and interaction, with physical and mental benefits. Young people grow up watching soccer as a spectator sport. Sooner or later, many supporters decide to play soccer on a local team, of which there is one in every village. Soccer has over a million members and more than 600,000 active players, representing a third of all athletes in Sweden. The sport is a must for the country's well-being. No wonder the government is encouraging young people to participate in the game.

Sportsmanship plays a vital role in Sweden. The Olympic idea "participating is more important than winning" is in the nation's DNA. But after missing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a discussion arose about the concept of "winner's culture." Sports celebs are convinced that Swedish soccer can learn much from England or America, where winning is more important than competing, and athletes are encouraged daily to work hard and give their best.

Hammarby is a cult club and does not have a winner's culture. That is why the club, co-owned by Swedish soccer hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will never be national champions, say proponents of the winner's mentality.

Hacken has no winner's culture, but they won the Swedish Cup final. Indeed, not wanting to win at all costs does not mean constant losing, opponents of implementing a winner's culture say.

Is success an exponent of the winner's culture?

Everything comes at a price, and the question is whether clubs (should) be willing to make decisions that lead to 'victory'. Take Malmö FF. This club is said to have a great winner's culture. The team, the city, and the organization have found a mode to deal with the pressure that fans impose. Malmö has had countless victories for decades, but in the seasons when the results were not great, the so-called winner's culture proved to be an annoying burden. Directors suddenly forget their long-term strategy and fire trainers and players who were praised to the skies the year before but now seem incapable of anything. Is this success? Is this an exponent of the winner's culture? Or is success standing firm and resisting press and public pressure? And what is the role of fans? In a winner's culture, shouldn't they, on the contrary, have faith in the plan of their club board, coach and players? Isn't loyalty also an expression of success?

Swedish fans are passionate about football. They donate money to the clubs' fan associations and create tifos during matches. Tifos are the visual choreographies that supporters perform in the stands before the football game starts. Materials such as big paintings, flags, confetti, paper sheets, and pyrotechnics are often used. Even if their team lost the game, the fans in the stands might have won because of their creativity. The level of the Swedish soccer league is lower than other European leagues. Talented players are often transferred abroad as teenagers. The Netherlands is an important market for Swedish clubs. Players develop their skills and are sold to major countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, and England. Famous stars like Johan Elmander, Rasmus Elm, and Zlatan Ibrahimović have taken this route.

Although fans have been robbed of their top talents each time, their enthusiasm for the sport has only grown. Supporters make real work of tifos. Although ultra-fanatical supporters prefer to throw fireworks, there is much appreciation for the creations in the stands. Tifos are colorful and festive and provide soccer with an atmosphere that is pleasant to be in.

Winning is more fun, but losing is no big deal.

Although Sweden suffers from street gangs waging drug wars in the suburbs of Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm, it still owns the image of a fairytale: green meadows, endless forests, blue lakes, and friendly people who celebrate life, especially in the summertime. Soccer is, in a way, an exponent of the feel. A match at many clubs is a family outing. Winning is more fun, but losing is no big deal. It's just part of the game.

That doesn't mean Swedes don't put their sports heroes on pedestals. They adore their Gre-No-Li, three players who remain immensely popular even in Italy. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, and Nils Liedholm were a feared attacking trio of AC Milan and the Swedish national team in the 1950s. In 1948 Gre-No-Li led Sweden to Olympic gold in London, and in 1951 and 1955, they won the national championship with Milan. Gunnar Nordahl was Serie A's top scorer for five seasons and is still third in Serie A's all-time leading scorer rankings, something not even Zlatan has been able to change.

Another big name in Swedish soccer is Sven-Göran Eriksson, the legendary trainer/coach who finally announced his retirement in 2023. He was not a high-flyer as a player, but the world was at his feet after he made IFK Gothenburg national champion and won the UEFA Cup. His greatest successes were with Benfica and Lazio Roma. From 2001, Eriksson served as England's national coach. In this country, he did not manage to win any prizes. The Swedish federation considered appointing him as national coach at some point. Still, both parties could not agree on a commitment.

Sweden, a formidable opponent

Although Eriksson's vision and soccer style did not lead to equal success everywhere, he is internationally respected and seen as a soccer innovator. Piquant detail, as coach of England, he failed to win over Sweden. The Swedish team is considered a formidable opponent by many countries. In 1958 the Yellow Vikings lost their only World Cup final against Brazil. In 1994, the group - led by Tomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin - captured third at the World Cup in the United States after losing the semifinals to ... Brazil again.

Besides these phenomenal achievements, Sweden got no prizes. The lack of record doesn't bother the Swedes whatsoever. The collective self-confidence is not harmed by it, despite the occasional discussion about the lack of a winner's culture. Daily life is not black and white. Swedes have an eye for every detail and hundreds of shades of grey. Firing trainers because the results are disappointing does not fit into a social welfare state. In doing so, you must ask whether a winning culture is inherent in success. It is too easy to think that clubs or countries that prefer winning above all else consistently achieve good results. Reality can be unruly in this regard, and the pain of defeat becomes more significant with higher expectations.

For most Swedes, therefore, winning is an afterthought. When a match or tournament begins, they automatically discover who will emerge victorious. Meanwhile, they encourage the players with chants, songs, and tifos. The more colorful it is, the happier supporters feel; hope provides connectivity.

May the best win.