Over the summer holidays it is common among many Swedes to take a trip down memory lane. I am no different and this summer I returned to familiar hoods for almost a week of lazy life by the lake, at my mother’s summer cottage. As every year this journey brings a mix of reliving fond memories and sadness when facing houses, factories and sports facilities in a rural part of the country that has clearly seen better days. Sweden has one of the highest urbanisation rates in Europe and it is evident how this affects life both where I grew up, further north where I also spend part of my summer and in rural areas also in the south where we took a quick family tour. Sports is in a difficult place when facilities in many parts of the country deteriorate due to lack of available funds for maintenance and there is nowhere near enough people to fill the facilities. In the bigger cities there are more people than available facilities and public funding comes nowhere near what is required to cater for the number of sports facilities that are needed to keep people active. A quick look at the map as it will look when taking into account the density of the population in Sweden 2025 makes it easy to understand that we are only now seeing the beginning of the problems that are waiting.
Having said this, most of the great athletes of Swedish sporting history have come from the tiny towns and simple facilities. In fact, this is likely to be a pattern in many countries. As I travel through Sweden I can see why. In the facilities that actually are looked after I see great possibilities. There is a paddock full of horses just outside the door, a plastic ice to practice slap shots on, an empty golf course within walking distance and many, many more examples of accessible sports that children in the city can only dream of. These facilities of course do not look after themselves. Each one will take a superintendent with knowledge of the three magical questions:
- What is good (now)?
- What can be better?
- How can we fix this?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a job worthy any father or mother of a future world class athlete!