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Långholmen wins opt-out on ‘Swedish player’ rule

In a decision with some parallels to the landmark Bosman ruling, the Swedish Football Association has granted The Local's partner football club Långholmen FC a temporary dispensation from regulations requiring a quota of Sweden-bred players in match day squads.

Långholmen wins opt-out on 'Swedish player' rule

After the celebrations surrounding last season’s dramatic promotion to division 3, the Stockholm club sobered up with a start when it was discovered that the move from the local leagues into the national system meant a new set of regulations to follow, including one stipulating that half of the team must qualify as homegrown players.

The chance discovery of the Swedish FA regulations by one of Långholmen’s members sent shockwaves through Sweden’s perhaps most international club, which has a playing staff representing 21 nationalities.

”We panicked as our championship winning team from last year had only five players who qualified as homegrown players,” Mats Gustavsson, Långholmen FC chairperson, told The Local.

Långholmen applied to the Swedish FA’s competition committee for a dispensation from the rule but their initial request was rejected.

“We were obliged to reject the application as there was no room for manoeuvre within the regulations for providing a dispensation,” said Swedish FA lawyer Lars Helmersson to The Local.

But the expat community club decided to contest the decision and, with the backing of an association representing the interests of division three clubs, appealed to the board of the Swedish Football Association.

The FA board returned their affirmative decision last Tuesday, much to the relief of a Långholmen still uncertain about where and with whom they would be playing in 2010, with less than a month to the big kick off.

”Of course we are happy that we have been given a dispensation, but I think that the main issue here is that hopefully our fight will lead to a change in the rules so that other clubs do not have to go through the same thing,” Mats Gustavsson said.

The regulations, which stipulate that half of the match squad must have been registered with a Swedish club for three years between the ages of 15 and 21, affect all players, regardless of nationality, Gustavsson pointed out.

“The board gave the club’s players a dispensation on the grounds of them being amateurs and having come to Sweden for reasons other than football. The purpose of the rules was never to discriminate against immigrant clubs such as Långholmen,” Helmersson confirmed.

Gustavsson told The Local that while the club has been a little ”shell-shocked” by the experience, preparations for the coming season have not been disrupted.

“We did discuss adopting a form of affirmative action policy by recruiting players who qualified under the rules. But this would mean we would have had to turn away players who had the wrong background – dangerously close to sorting people according to skin colour, or sexuality, and nobody wants that,” he said.

The dispensation applies to 13 Långholmen players – all amateurs who have moved to Sweden through work or romantic connections – and extends only for the 2010 season. The Local asked Gustavsson what the future holds for the English-speaking set up, which joined the Swedish league’s bottom rung, division 8, only seven seasons ago.

”We were given the dispensation on the grounds that the players were amateurs. But if we were to win the division and move into division 2 then we would have to put them all on contract… we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

According to the Swedish FA regulations, from division 3 and upwards at least half of a match day squad must be made up of homegrown players. The rules were introduced in Sweden in 2006 to replace regulations which limited the number of non-EU players (to three).

”Sweden introduced the regulations after an EU court ruled against the previous praxis of limiting non-EU players. We instead adopted UEFA rules stipulating homegrown players – but these are designed for elite competitions,” said Lars Helmersson.

Helmersson confirmed that the FA’s competition committee has been tasked with reviewing the regulations during the 2010 season to avoid a repeat of the situation that has afflicted Långholmen.

He added that although the UEFA regulations were developed in consultation with the EU and world football body FIFA, they have never been examined in court.

“It is only when they are challenged before the courts that the issue can be looked at legally,” Helmersson said.

On the same day as the Swedish FA told Långholmen of its decision, March 16th, the European Court of Justice ruled in a landmark decision regarding the French player Olivier Bernard, stating that clubs have the right to claim compensation for their investment in the training of young players.

“All of these issues are basically on the same principle as the Bosman case. Until the Bernard ruling I would have said that the ECJ would have found this all consistent with EU law, but now it is anyone’s guess – this indicates that the court is becoming more interested in the justifications for the special status of sport,” said Johan Lindholm, an expert in EU and sports law at Umeå University.

“Within EU law, a lot of questions remain unanswered, especially within football,” he told The Local.

The 1995 Bosman ruling by the ECJ concerned the freedom of movement of workers within the EU. The case had a profound effect on the transfers of football players within the EU, banning restrictions on foreign EU members within the national leagues.

Currently Långholmen’s players are amateur and so would not fall under EU legislation on the free movement of goods and services. However if they were to progress up the league system and become professional then they probably would qualify as “economic actors,” according to Lindholm.

“The basic principle is that anything that makes it less attractive for people to find work would probably qualify as discriminatory.”

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IMMIGRATION

Reader’s view: Why is it so hard for Sweden to accept English in public life?

A reader of The Local shares her story of trying to enter the Swedish job market after completing her doctoral studies.

Reader's view: Why is it so hard for Sweden to accept English in public life?
File photo of two women, not related to the article, having a conversation. Photo: mentatdgt/Pexels

Under the Swedish public eye, those put into the category of “undesirable” or “wrong-typed” migrants such as asylum seekers, refugees, and unskilled workers from poorer countries in the global South have often become the target of heated debates on governmental spending, neoliberalised administration, and moral public sentiments.

Yet, another group of migrants, those seen as a more “right” type of migrants that Sweden wants to attract – the high-skilled international researchers – remains invisible and overlooked while this group continues facing everyday exclusionary barriers and bureaucratic administrative obstacles.

In addition to the Swedish linguistic barrier that excludes foreign academics in their everyday workplace at Swedish universities, it appears as though the whole Swedish administrative system is not welcoming any foreigner, including high-skilled foreign academics, despite the government's avowed promises of hospitality.

My recent experience could be seen as an example of this bureaucratic and xenophobic logic of the New Public Management in Sweden – in which I believe that many other international researchers could have shared a similar experience.

My employment contract as a doctoral candidate at a Swedish university ended in June 2020. I was told by my union that it was imperative to register my unemployment at the Swedish Employment Agency, Arbetsförmedlingen, which I did. Yet, the whole registration process has alienated me, a non-Swedish speaker, because all the instructions were written in Swedish only.

I navigated by using Google Translate from Swedish to English, though I was not certain whether the translation was accurate. Towards the end of the online registration process at Arbetsförmedlingen, I was asked to book a mandatory interview by phone with Arbetsförmedlingen, which I complied with.

Yet, my first meeting with Arbetsförmedlingen turned out to be a failure, which irritated both me and the Arbetsförmedlingen officers.

The phone meeting abruptly ended just after a few minutes instead of a 30-minute interview as proposed. The first officer I met on phone only spoke Swedish. When I told him that I could not speak Swedish, he passed the phone to another officer who spoke English but demanded that I must speak Swedish to him. It was obvious that he could speak English but he refused to continue speaking English to me, putting me at a disadvantage.

He asked me (in English): “How long have you been living in Sweden?” I tried to explain to him that I was very keen on learning Swedish but I had not had any sufficient time and resources due to the nature of my over-stressful PhD work, which was conducted entirely in English. But the Arbetsförmedlingen officer did not seem to understand or did not want to understand, and he blamed me personally:

“It's your responsibility to learn Swedish!” he said.

I proposed that we could hold our conversation in English since he was capable of speaking English. To my surprise, he said (in English), “No, I don't understand your English. I don't speak English. You must speak Swedish. Because you don't speak Swedish, we need an authorised translator of your mother tongue.”

Then he insisted (in English) that he would book another meeting with an authorised translator of my mother tongue. I was required to speak either Swedish or my mother tongue despite the fact that my mother tongue has not been a part of my work life, daily life, and family life for over ten years – since I have been living in English-speaking countries, working in Sweden, and am married to an English-speaking partner.

This bureaucracy, this inflexibility, and insufficiency of public administration, together with its hostility against non-Swedish speakers, shocks me. In a country like Sweden where English is widely spoken, why is it so difficult to accept English as a second working language?

Seen from the cost-and-effect calculation, it is obvious that it would be more costly for the government to hire authorised translators for some far-away mother tongue languages of those who already live in English-speaking countries, obtain a Swedish PhD degree, and speak English.

If language is simply a means of communication between the government and its citizens, could it be wiser to accept English as a second official means of communication and administration so that administrative tasks could run smoothly? In terms of administrative efficiency, could it be more reasonable to accept English when the country at the current moment cannot even provide enough resources for Swedish learning?

At my workplace, for instance, there are also very limited resources and incentives for international researchers to learn Swedish (for instance, we do not get employment prolongation to learn Swedish while all the tasks carried out in English already occupy more than our full-time working hours).

Is the systematic demand on Swedish speaking while not providing enough support and resources an administrative strategy to drive out high-skilled foreigners who do not speak Swedish for some reason?

The conservative, neoliberal, nationalist and xenophobic mindset “In Sweden, we speak Swedish” and threatening proposals from opposition politicians to cut funding and restrict the rights to interpreters do not solve the Swedish problems at their root. The only thing they succeed in is creating a public fear of attack from foreigners and foreign languages, including English.

This reader's story was written by a former PhD researcher in Uppsala currently a permanent resident of Sweden, whose identity is known to The Local but who wished to remain anonymous. Do you have a story you would like to share with The Local about the highs and lows of life in Sweden? Email [email protected]
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