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Immigrants dream of playing cricket - for Sweden

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15:46 CEST+02:00
The thwack of leather against willow is the sound that for inhabitants of countries from Pakistan to Australia signifies the game of cricket. Immigration means that it's a sound being heard more and more in Sweden, as Nicholas Chipperfield finds out.

Forget football's mass appeal, frenzied fawning over ice hockey heroes and innebandy's cult following, Sweden is home to a growing and devoted band of cricketers determined to boost the sport's profile and lead the national side back to international competition.

"The number of those playing cricket has increased a lot in the last two years – interest has developed," Rashid Zafar Waraich, chairman of the Swedish Cricket Federation (SCF), tells The Local.

Around 98 percent of the some 250 adults playing cricket in Swedish clubs are ex-pats, many of whom have roots in major cricketing nations, predominantly Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Australia and England, Waraich says.

Some 100 juniors - under 19s - also play. With backing from the International Cricket Council (ICC), the SCF has overseen the establishment of a cricket academy in Malmö where 30 youngsters between the ages of nine and fourteen are given the chance to nurture cricketing greatness. A second academy is planned for Stockholm during the 2007 season.

Cricket's notoriously complex rules and day-long matches have meant however that few Swedes have taken up the sport.

"I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Swedes who play cricket," Waraich laments.

A thriving local club scene however is attracting growing numbers to the sport on a part-time and amateur basis. Half the players on Waraich's Stockholm-based Botkyrka Cricket Club are engineers.

"I am a civil engineer, we also have an IT consultant, a cook and the rest are university students," he says.

"Half the team are friends of mine from Pakistan, many of whom came to Sweden, married Swedes, got jobs or studied."

There are currently 18 cricket clubs throughout Sweden with varying degrees of activity. Eight of these clubs are poised to compete in Sweden's premier cricket league, the National League, in the 2007 season.

The league includes current champions Spånga United CC, Malmöhus CC, Botkyrka CC, Jinnah CC's two teams, Eleven Stars CC, Sigtuna CC and Pakistan CC.

The 2007 season gets underway on May 5th with fixtures planned between all eight teams. The final is due to be played in August.

Other competitions include the Jinnah Cup, the Swedish Cricket Cup and the Academic Cup played between the Stockholm Academic Cricket Society (SACS) and Uppsala University CC.

The SCF is planning to field a Swedish national team in Division Five of the European Championship in 2008, when they face Austria, Switzerland and three other teams yet to be announced.

"I think in five to seven years' we can imagine Sweden winning a European ICC tournament," Waraich says, grinning.

Swedish cricketers are no strangers to international competition. In 1997 Sweden became an affiliate member of the ICC, joining Afghanistan, Bahrain, Myanmar, Norway, Rwanda and South Korea among today's total of 55 aspiring cricketing nations.

The team took part in the European Cricket Championships, a tournament for European ICC affiliate members held every two years, in 1999 and 2001. In their 1999 campaign Sweden reached the semi-finals where they lost to eventual

winners Greece by six wickets.

Two years later however the Swedes came last in the ten-team tournament and Sweden has not played an international fixture since.

Team selection for the 2008 European Championship will be based upon performance of Sweden's eight league teams, individual performances and, ultimately, availability determined by who can get time off work to play.

To qualify for the national team, players must be Swedish nationals or have lived in Sweden for at least 183 days per year for the past three years.

Lacking commercial sponsorship and with cricket in its in infancy in Sweden, players must buy their own bats, balls and related equipment abroad. The vast majority of cricket kit in Sweden today has been bought at players' own expense, often in England and Pakistan.

For those who play, cricket in Sweden is a labour of love.

"Cricket is in my blood. We have small goals and we hope to achieve those goals one by one," Waraich says.

Nicholas Chipperfield

The World in Sweden Series:The Local is compiling a series of articles on how people and cultures from around the world are influencing Swedish life.

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