This Saturday, Kiruna's Ice Hockey club will march in Stockholm’s Pride Parade for the second year in a row.
Writing on the club’s website, chairman Johan Köhler appealed to other Swedish sports teams to follow their lead.
“The parade has a sports section where I want to see all the clubs, as well as mine, standing up for everyone’s right to play sports without fear of harassment or being insulted,” he wrote.
“So, if you are the chairman or another association leader, put on your match or competition gear and walk with me!”
So far, only a handful of clubs have said they will join them so far, Köhler told The Local on Tuesday. This is in part because many people are away on holiday.
Based in the northern Swedish mining town of Kiruna, the ice hockey club made history in 2014 when it became the first sports club to acquire a so-called LGBT-certification by Sweden’s biggest gay rights organization RFSL.
Part of this involves educating members about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights and history, Köhler explains. RFSL then goes through all of the club's documents, manuals and rules, as well as ensuring that there are facilities for transexuals. The whole process takes about six months.
Köhler told The Local that the club's decision to support LGBT rights had been inspired by Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist.
“It all started when a supporter of the club came and talked to us about Florida’s work and said that if the ice hockey club wanted to be more successful, then we needed to change our behaviour.”
“At the time, members of the club were using bad language and excluding a lot of young talent. So we sat down and talked about how we could send out a message – both within our club and to society as a whole – that we were changing.”
Accordingly, in June 2014, the club announced that it would play the 2014-15 season with rainbow-coloured match jerseys in support of the LGBT community.
“But most importantly we would walk the talk and live by these new rules,” said Köhler. “If any ice hockey players are caught not following the rules then they have to quit.”
When the club announced its makeover on TV, however, not everyone was impressed.
“A lot of people thought we were doing a great thing, but lots of people didn’t like it at all,” he said.
“In Sweden at least, hockey is the number one macho sport. There is not a single ice hockey player at the moment who is openly homosexual or bisexual.”
Ice hockey has a history of homophobia. In 1995 Lars Peter Karlsson, a gay ice hockey player for Västerås, was stabbed to death in a suspected homophobic attack.
Only a handful of professional sportsmen and women have come out as gay in the past few years, among them Swedish skiing legend Anja Pärson.
Köhler hopes that Kiruna Ice Hockey club can change the perception of the sport.
“We want to set a good example of how people should behave within the sport and we aim to make Kiruna the most tolerant town in Sweden in five years.”