Created by the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (Svenska Ishockeyförbundet) in cooperation with the Swedish Sports Confederation (Riksidrottsförbundet), the "Ice Breaker" project will mean referees and assistants in the SHL, SDHL, Hockey Allsvenskan, Hockeyettan and J20 SuperElit leagues wear the rainbow badge on their jerseys throughout the competitive year.
It came to fruition after organizers realized that like many sports, ice hockey needs to do more work on equality issues.
"We respect and care for each other in both our words and actions – on and off the ice," Joel Hansson, head of referees at the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, told The Local.
"We will always actively work to make our sport more accessible for everyone who wants to be a part of it, no matter your nationality, ethnic background, religion, age, gender, or sexual orientation. The chance to be part of our democratic sport will always be at the forefront of all the work we do," he added.
Referees have reacted positively to the move and are happy the matter is being taken seriously according to Hansson. While rules are already in place that punish infractions involving homophobic or discriminatory language used by players, organizers hope the new initiative will raise more awareness about what is appropriate and not.
Along with the patches, referees are being given workshops and will have a post-season debriefing next year. In the long-term, it is hoped that the macho culture in the sport can be changed, and that will be reflected through the public’s view of ice hockey in the country, in turn encouraging new referees into the game.
Previous moves to stamp out homophobia in ice hockey have occurred at a club level in Sweden. In 2014, Kiruna IF started playing in a rainbow-coloured kit, and they have since marched in the Stockholm Pride parade.
Kiruna IF's 2014-15 jersey was their first to feature the pride flag, and subsequent kits continue to incorporate the colours. Photo: Kiruna IF/TT
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