Idan Artikel 24.04.2024

New report: Invest more and organise elite sport differently for Sweden to win medals

Set up an independent organisation like Team Denmark and find more money to support selected sports, athletes, and coaches, is the advice in a new report that evaluates Swedish elite sport.

If Swedish athletes want to win more international medals, it would be a good idea to follow the examples of Denmark, Norway or New Zealand and create an independent organisation similar to Team Denmark to organise the work with elite sport in Sweden.

This is the recommendation from the Danish Institute for Sports Studies, which has just finalised a report that examines the strengths and weaknesses of the Swedish elite sports system and compares it to the elite sports systems in Denmark, Norway and Finland.

The report is part of a larger investigation into the conditions for Swedish elite sport, which the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science has conducted for the Swedish government because Sweden has fallen behind in the international race for sports medals.

In a section comparing the sporting performance of the Nordic countries, the report points out that in most sports, Sweden has traditionally been well ahead of the other Nordic countries, with Finland as the main competitor. The Finnish challenge has disappeared, but the gap between Sweden on the one hand and Norway and Denmark on the other has narrowed, and in many sports where Sweden was previously dominant, the country is now second or third best among the Nordic countries.

This also applies to many team sports. Sweden used to dominate the world and was clearly the best Nordic country in men's ice hockey and men's handball but has now been surpassed by Finland and Denmark respectively. Sweden was also the undisputed Nordic leader in men's football until the 1980s but has since been challenged/surpassed by Denmark.

The current structure is criticised from all sides

In Sweden, responsibility for developing elite sport is shared between the Swedish Sports Confederation, the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) and Parasport Sweden. Idan's report, which is based on interviews with a wide range of stakeholders in Swedish sport, shows that the three organisations' different ideological starting points and areas of responsibility, along with outright turf wars, have led to a dual command system, lack of clarity and low efficiency for both federations and elite athletes.

Virtually everyone interviewed for the report is critical of this structure, which is why Idan recommends that Sweden create an independent organisation to manage the work with elite sport.

"If the starting point is to win more medals, Sweden can learn something from Denmark. We recommend a Danish model because Denmark has reorganised its elite sports system earlier than Sweden in response to the international competition that has increased significantly in recent years," says Rasmus K. Storm, head of research and analysis at Idan and one of the authors of the report.

Associations, facilities and coaches provide a good starting point

The report takes a comprehensive look at the conditions for elite sport in Sweden and finds both strengths and weaknesses. Among the strengths is that the majority of children and young people in Sweden play sports at some point in an association and have good opportunities to try different sports. The local associations have expertise and skilled coaches, and if you choose to focus on your sport, there is a relatively well-developed system for combining elite sports with studies. Sweden also has good quality sports facilities.

These factors reflect the fact that sport in Sweden, like the other Nordic countries, has had the welfare state as its ideological foundation.

"This has characterised the world of sport, which is based on mass participation and where the elite is an afterthought. The Swedish elite has done well for a long time because of good facilities and skilled coaches but today elite sport is complicated and expensive, and Sweden has fallen far behind in this battle," says Klaus Nielsen, professor emeritus at Birkbeck, University of London, and co-author of the report.

Therefore, the report from Idan also recommends that both the state and the business community put more money into sports. The money should be used to support sports with a high level of international competitiveness and to support athletes and elite sports coaches, who often have low and insecure incomes and unclear career paths.

Idan also recommends that Sweden improves the education of elite coaches and establish national elite sports centres that combine elite sports activities with research.

Swedish sport is at a crossroads

Johan R. Norberg has overseen the review of Swedish elite sport on behalf of the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science and he does not doubt that Swedish sport is at a crossroads that will impact both elite and grassroots sport.

In a press release, he points to several things that Swedish sport and Swedish society will have to consider if they want to follow Idan's advice on winning more international medals:

‘Is it possible to increase support from government and business? Will the sports movement's specialised federations accept that some receive increased elite support while others receive less or nothing at all? And last but not least, is the sports movement prepared to compromise on its autonomy and decentralised structure in favour of increased centralisation and state involvement?’ Johan R. Norberg asks.

Download the report

Idan Udgivelse april 2024
Swedish elite sport