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FOOTBALL

How football is getting refugee girls off the sidelines

With much of the debate about asylum seekers in Sweden centred on young men, Göran Smith teamed up with five of his female friends to get girls off the sidelines and onto the football pitch.

How football is getting refugee girls off the sidelines
Photo: Jaandée Borelius

The 27-year-old transport researcher explains how he and his friends came up with the idea of starting a football team for refugee girls in Gothenburg. 

First, they reached out to friends and acquaintances before paying a few visits to refugee homes. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and in February 2016 the Rampen initiative’s organizers held their first training session. 


Nedjma and Ayan battle for the ball as Göran looks on. Photo: Annie Hyrefeldt

Once they got the ball rolling word spread fast, and more and more girls started coming.

“This year we have had around 100 girls in our training sessions so far, and around 20-25 show up on a weekly basis,” Smith tells The Local Voices.   

“Now we have a kind of team, and we play games on weekly basis together with more experienced players from a regular team called Kickers BK.”

Smith says he gets a kick out of connecting the girls and helping them socialize in a new country. When Sweden took in record numbers of asylum seekers last year, he and his friends felt girls were overlooked in the debate, possibly because they were far fewer in number than boys. 

“We wanted to help make their life better, or at least put smiles on their faces.” 


Farhia Mohamed. Photo: Annie Hyrefeldt

The six friends behind Rampen run the initiative in their spare time but try to make sure the players meet up regularly. 

“We try to schedule at least two activities a week: one training session, and then a real match against a different women’s football club in Gothenburg. Sometimes we go out to watch football matches, or for fika,” he says. 

But when they sit down for coffee and buns not all the talk is of tactics and positioning: Smith says it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the sport for some is mainly a great excuse for the girls to get out and meet people. 

“We are already having more activities than planned. We’re like a group of friends having fun together.”

 And the players have already expressed an interest in meeting up more than twice a week. 

“To be honest, their will to go out and do something, is way stronger than their desire to just play football. 

“The girls have a lot of ideas and are very keen to meet Swedes and make new friends. Hopefully we can continue to help them with that, so that they can feel feel secure, involved, and accepted.”


Iman breaks away with the ball at her feet. Photo: Annie Hyrefeldt

Lisa Hammarström – one of the the instigators of Rampen. Photo: Annie Hyrefeldt


Mimi. Photo: Annie Hyrefeldt 

 

IMMIGRATION

INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.
 

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
 
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
 
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.” 

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