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IMMIGRATION

Immigrants dream of playing cricket – for Sweden

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.

IMMIGRATION

Swedish Iranians complain of ‘drastic drop’ in visas for relatives

Iranians living in Sweden are complaining that relatives are no longer being granted visas to visit, causing pain and heartbreak for one of Sweden's most established immigrant communities.

Swedish Iranians complain of 'drastic drop' in visas for relatives

“This has affected our community very greatly,” Kamran Chabokdavan, spokesperson for the Swedish-Iranian interest group, or Intresseföreningen för Svensk-Iranska frågor, told The Local. “There’s so many people who are feeling depressed or mistreated.”

He had planned to marry his Swedish partner in 2019, but has still not been able to as his parents have not been able to get a visa to come to Sweden, despite visiting, and returning back to Iran several times before. 

“If it was the first time that my parents came here, then it would be more reasonable to say that we cannot be sure that you will go back,” Chabokdavan, who works as a vet in Gothenburg, said. “But if the person has been here ten times before, and suddenly you decide to reject the application, that is a little bit odd.” 

The group now has 2,000 members on Facebook and has contacted the embassy in Tehran, Sweden’s foreign ministry, and MPs in two of Sweden’s political parties, who Chabokdavan said had promised to raise the issue in their parties and to the government.

Chabokdavan told The Local that many Iranians were suffering from the shift to a stricter visa policy. 

“Another member in our group had a sister who was a late-stage cancer patient at the hospital, and her parents couldn’t come here to say goodbye to her.” 

Rozita Akrami, a data scientist at Ericsson, also a group member, has collected data showing that Sweden is now the worst country in the Schengen area for giving visiting visas to Iranians, with only 35 percent of visa applications by friends and relatives of citizens accepted. 

She claims there was a “drastic drop” in the acceptance rate, from 55 per cent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2019, with France accepting 75 percent of visa applications from residents’ relatives that year and Switzerland 79 percent. 

“It seems that the Swedish embassy in Iran has decided to apply stricter criteria, which are really, really unclear,” Chabokdavan said. “It’s really not clear what’s the criteria is here, or why they are rejecting so many documents.” 

In a judgement from last week, the Migration Court ruled that the tougher approach taken by the Swedish embassy in Tehran was justified by a recent rise in the number of Iranians granted visas to Sweden who had then decided to stay and apply for asylum.  

“The embassy further notes that in recent years hundreds of Iranian citizens have applied for residency in Sweden after travelling in on a visa that had been granted,” the court said, justifying its decision to reject an appeal. 

“The embassy can point to the Migration Agency’s reports that a several of these people had had been granted visas previously, even several visas. As a result, visas previously awarded are not a strong indicator of an intention to return.” 

In its judgement, it also noted that sanctions against Iran had resulted in a “severely worsened economy”, with “high unemployment and a weakened currency”, while also pointing to growing “repression of religious minorities” and “imprisonment of political dissidents”. 

In a letter to the embassy in Tehran the group complained that there was no mechanism to replace documents rejected by the Swedish authorities, or to send in missing documents. The group also called for clarity on how applicants’ economic situation was assessed and how relevant it was, and called for the embassy to publish its official statistics from 2015 to 2022. 

“This is about parents who have lived for 60 to 70 years in their homeland and visited Sweden several times while always leaving the Schengen region before their visa has expired,” they wrote. 

Chabokdavan said that in some of the rejection letters, applicants had been told that the worsening economic situation in Iran made Sweden’s authorities worried that visiting relatives would not now return. 

Other rejection letters, he said, had stressed that just because the applicant had visited Sweden and then returned home to Iran many times before, did not mean that they could be relied upon to do so again. 

He said that it was unclear what documents would be enough to prove how well established and tied to Iran the visa applicants are. 

Iranians, who came to Sweden both after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, are one of Sweden’s most successful migrant groups, with 60 percent getting a university education, and many working within universities, or in high skilled professions.   

“These are people who are really established in Sweden by their job or their studies,” Chabokdavan said. “And their parents usually have a strong, economical base in Iran, otherwise, they couldn’t get this kind of visa from the beginning.”

The Local has contacted the Swedish foreign ministry and the embassy in Tehran for comment. 

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