The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for October, 2010

A Question of Sport

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I was talking to a Swedish friend the other day and our conversation turned to the differences between the ways that minorities in the two countries choose to promote their interests.  This came back to me on Saturday when the Swedish second division football team Syrianska secured promotion to the Swedish Premier League.  Syrianska is a club whose membership is made up from Aramean immigrants arriving from Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. The club is based in Södertälje, 30 miles or so from Stockholm, but has a fan base around the world.  A little later the same day I listened to a news article on the BBC that talked about the surprising lack of British Asian players active in professional football in the UK, despite the rapid growth in the popularity of the sport among spectators and viewers from across the UK’s many diverse communities.  Why, the article asked, were the communities not integrating on the sports field?

Lying at the heart of all this is a question of identity.  And identity and sporting affiliation can be closely linked.  As a life-long Liverpool supporter I should be the first to recognise this.  I’ve talked football with people from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur and sat with Liverpool supporters watching the Reds in Singapore and San Sebastian.  And, as any supporter knows, you don’t need a common language to feel closeness to your fellow supporters when the ball hits the back of the net.  Sport can provide a sense of connection that transcends geography.  Being a Liverpool supporter is part of my identity and one I share with millions around the world.

Sport can do this, but it’s only a very small part of the equation.  Feeling secure in your identity, in where you belong, is not just a question of sport.  And it would be trite to draw facile conclusions from the Syrianska and the Liverpool examples.  But sport is an important indicator of integration and identity, which is why we ask the question about British Asians and football.  This puts me in mind of my old cricket team in England which included, among others, two Indian IT engineers, a teacher from Australia, a South African student and a business manager from Pakistan.  The conversations around the table after the match were a sparkling array of stories from our odd experiences around the world but I remember the very particular thrill we all felt when one of our number said, “You know, being in this team with you guys makes me really feel like I’m at home here”.  A question of sport?

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Building Peace

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

A Swedish soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday when the armoured vehicle he was driving was hit by a roadside bomb.  On Monday two Swedish soldiers were injured when their patrol was attacked with small arms fire.

Our thoughts and condolences go to the family and friends of 22 year old Kenneth Wallin.  The events of the past few days remind us that every death is a personal tragedy and a source of pain and distress for those that served alongside serviceman Wallin in Mazar-i-Sharif.  Nothing can change that.  But Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt reminded us that Sweden is working in Afghanistan alongside its allies from the UK and 45 other nations not to win a war but to build a peace.  That matters, and that struggle continues.

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Happy first birthday, WaterAid Sweden!

Friday, October 15th, 2010

I hosted dinner last night to mark the first anniversary of WaterAid in Sweden. WaterAid is an international no- governmental organisation whose mission is to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities. WaterAid is a British NGO, and Sweden is the first national organization that Barbara Frost and her team have established outside the UK.

Last night’s dinner was an opportunity to get together those that had been instrumental in making WaterAid Sweden such a success in its first twelve months. Not surprisingly, this was an extraordinary group of people. Jan Eliasson, Sweden’s former Foreign Minister and Chair of the UN Security Council, who is Chair of WaterAid’s Board here, told how he and the UK team had worked tirelessly through the night at the recent Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Summit in New York to win important changes to the summit declaration on access to clean water and sanitation. Representatives from companies like IKEA and H&M told of extraordinary commitments of money and energy that they are investing in India and Bangladesh to help drive forward progress towards the MDGs. We heard from Niclas Kjellström-Matseke, the dynamic CEO of the Swedish Post Code Lottery, of his plans to spend £70m of lottery money on deserving charitable causes in 2010 alone. A Swedish entrepreneur, who runs public baths on behalf of the community, told us of how he had donated money to WaterAid by encouraging customers to swim a number of lengths to trigger giving by the company to water projects in the developing world. I talked about Britain’s commitment to expand our spending – despite the need to cut public spending to balance our books – in support of the MDGs. And we heard from around the room about the efforts and optimism of a group of dynamic people with an impressive engagement in alleviating poverty far from northern Europe.

I will admit to feeling as humble as I felt proud to be somewhat involved in helping WaterAid to establish here. My own involvement with the organization goes back to working with WaterAid in Nepal during my time in our Embassy in Kathmandu and seeing the genuine difference that the NGO makes to people’s day to day lives in conditions of extreme poverty. So on Blog Action Day – Water I take this opportunity to wish WaterAid Sweden a happy first birthday. Here’s to many more.

Meantime you can hear more about WaterAid if you listen to Jonathan Dimbleby on the Radio 4 appeal this weekend.

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Sweden’s first PPP building

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Sir Andrew Cahn, Chief Executive of UK Trade and Investment, has been in Stockholm today. Andrew is responsible for the British Government’s efforts to stimulate inward investment into the UK. UKTI also supports British companies that want to do business abroad. As part of Andrew’s visit we visited the site of the new Karolinska Teaching hospital project in Stockholm.

It’s an impressive sight. The development borders the site of the current Karolinska, one of the world’s best teaching hospitals, and extends across an area half a kilometre long by half a kilometre wide. It is now crawling with diggers and trucks as the process of blasting the granite bedrock and carting away the debris gets under way.

It is also a project with a strongly British-Swedish feel, a partnership between British investment fund Innisfree and Swedish construction company Skanska, but with major input from Skanska in the UK. This is because the project is so big. In fact it’s Skanska’s largest project ever. It’s also the world’s largest hospital project built with public-private (PPP) funding. And it’s also Sweden’s first PPP building. The construction contract for the new Karolinska hospital will be worth $2 billion for Skanska alone, making this the construction firm’s biggest ever deal.

The new university hospital has appropriately big ambitions, not the least of which is to become an internationally competitive university medical hub and to drive the transformation of the Stockholm region into a leading bio-medical centre. As we push for economic growth in a highly competitive global market this combination of bio-medical excellence and expertise in innovative construction will be part of the recipe for success. But so will innovative financing, particularly because partnership between public and private sectors allow for cost management and effective risk transfer. This partnership may be a first here in Sweden but I suspect that it is a model that we will see more of. Keep an eye on our Flickr page to see pictures from Sir Andrew’s visit.

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It’s not rocket science…

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Those of you that are following the Nobel Prize announcements will know that this has already been an extraordinary week for British science.  On Monday Professor Bob Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and on Tuesday Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim of Manchester University were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Britain by and large does well by the Nobel Prizes.  In fact since the first prizes were awarded in 1901 Britons have won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation apart from the United States.  There are many reasons for this, of course.  But the quality of British universities and the investment in outstanding research is at the heart of it.  And this continues to matter.  The QS world university rankings published in September rated Cambridge as the world’s outstanding university, but there were three more British universities – Oxford, Imperial and UCL – in the top ten.  As a consequence of this our universities attract brilliant people from around the world; in 2007/08 these students were worth a staggering £1.9bn to the British economy and to UK academia, contributing significantly to the sums of money dedicated to research.  This is indeed a virtuous circle.

So yes, British science continues to punch well above its weight in the world, something that we can all be proud of.  And the Nobel Prizes this week serve to make this point for us.  But what they also show is that it is Britain’s openness to this increasingly interconnected world that is an essential element in our success.

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An extraordinary story

Monday, October 4th, 2010

The Nobel Assembly in Sweden today announced the award of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine to Professor Robert Edwards. Professor Edwards will receive the award from the King of Sweden at a ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December.

The award recognizes Professor Edwards’s extraordinary work to develop the technique of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). And it is an extraordinary story.  Professor Edwards began to work on IVF as a treatment for infertility in the 1950s but the road was never an easy one and Professor Edwards overcame much scepticism and resistance as he pioneered the techniques that lay behind IVF. But in 1978 the world’s first “test tube baby”, Louise Joy Brown, was born at Oldham General Hospital outside Manchester.  And in the years that followed Professor Edwards and his colleagues refined IVF technology and shared it with scientists and researchers around the world.

Professor Edwards’ work is a milestone in the development of modern medicine, and this is the Assembly’s motivation in making the award. But it is also a very real and very human story and one that touches the lives of millions. Nobel prizes occasionally cause us to stop and think about what scientific progress really means to us. This is one such award.

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Freedom of speech, the freedom to blog

Friday, October 1st, 2010

A blog can be many things. For some it is an opportunity to let the world know their dreams, for some a way to let the world know their reality, and for some to inspire others to make a difference. The long-running blog by Hossein Derakhshan, otherwise known as “the blogfather of Iran”, has achieved all these.

Hossein is a dual national Canadian – Iranian and was one of the first Iranian bloggers and has remained one of the most active.

Freedom of speech and Freedom of the media are fundamental rights that the British and Swedish hold dear to their hearts. Unfortunately those freedoms are not so readily available to everyone. An Iranian court has sentenced Hossein to 19 and a half years in prison, banned him from political and journalist activities and fined him €30,000 – simply for exercising his right to express his opinions! And in Iran this is not a one-off, since June of last year 170 journalists have been arrested and this year in March thirteen bloggers were imprisoned.

It is important that those of us who enjoy the fundamental freedoms of human rights never forget how lucky we are and seek to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Reporters Without Borders have more on this story and an online petition calling for Hossein’s release.

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