Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bandy: The Sport of the Swedish Soul

By: Jessie Cadle
Edited By: Dave Talmage

She proudly thrusts the picture forward, a dilapidated black and white photo in a simple black frame. In the image, a few well-dressed and elegant women ice skate wielding what seems to be field hockey sticks as they chase a small rubber ball.

“These are some women from Finland visiting the queen—Crown Princess Margareta—and they are playing bandy,” said Jenny Svender, who played bandy for 25 years and now coaches her daughter’s team. “They are in the Stockholm Stadium, which hosted the Olympic Games in 1912.”

Svender has the 1918 image framed in her home as a source of inspiration for her female bandy career in Sweden. A cross between ice hockey and soccer, bandy has been played in Sweden since 1895, she said. “It’s something in the Swedish soul that connects to bandy,” said Svender, who is a Ph.D student and part time teacher at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences.

How to Play Bandy: An Artist’s Game

While a highly competitive sport bandy is also known as an artist’s game. “There is so much ice and so much you can do with it,” Svender said. “It’s a game for artists who can really show the audience what they can do.”
Bandy is conventionally played outdoors on a sheet of ice the size of a soccer field, said Karin Redelius, who played bandy for 23 years, formerly served as a member of the board for the Swedish Bandy Federation and now teaches at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. 11 players comprise a team with one goalie. The objective is to score more points than the opposing team by shooting a small rubber ball into the opponent’s goal with a stick. Game play is divided into 45-minuet halves. Its rules and positions are herald from soccer. The sport is similar to hockey but players wear less pads and the goal is much larger, said Redelius.

The History of Bandy in Sweden: A Working Class Sport

“Bandy is provincial. It’s a local thing,” Redelius said. “It’s like in America; in some towns baseball is really big or somewhere else hockey is the thing.”

The sport of bandy originated in England and came to Stockholm in 1895. Bandy was originally known as “hockey” and played only by the upper class and royal family according to Jakob Öster, a member of the
Global Bandy Forum. In the 1920s bandy had spread to the working class districts and is still most popular in towns and provinces in northern Sweden, Svender said.

Today the game is primarily played in Eastern European countries, with the strongest rivalry between Russia and Sweden, said Daniel Grönqvist, a student in Stockholm. Events like World War One and England’s insufficient winters had stunted the sport’s popularity in Western Europe, said Eric Jonsson, Web Editor for the
Swedish Bandy Federation.

With the growth of televised sports bandy has lost some fans due to the game’s speed and the inability to follow the small ball. This problem was one that helped lead to ice hockey’s growth as a sport, Redelius said. “I remember a humor show where they said bandy actually means ‘where’s the ball,’” Grönqvist said with a laugh.

Bandy’s Popularity in Sweden: It’s Tradition

The bandy world championship has been played 31 times since 1957, and Sweden has always come home with a gold, silver or bronze medal, according to Öster. 2011 marked the first time in 12 years that Sweden was not in the final round of the Bandy World Championship, Redelius said.

Bandy is estimated to be the fifth most popular sport in Sweden in terms of spectators, Redelius said. “In the United States you have the Super Bowl for American football, and here in Sweden, bandy finals—the Swedish Championship—is like Sweden’s Super Bowl,” Jonsson said. “It’s one match, the two best teams in Sweden, and it has around 25,000 spectators. It’s been played since 1907.”

In Sweden, students grow up playing indoor bandy, a sport derived from outdoor bandy but with entirely different rules, in physical education classes, said Sarah Cain, an American living and studying in Stockholm. “Many people are related to bandy,” Svender said. “If they didn’t play it, they have a grandfather or another family member who did.”

Women’s Bandy Participation in Sweden: Masculine Norms

“Only 5% of bandy players are women,” Svender said. “It’s still a masculine game.” After Crown Princess Margareta’s participation in women’s bandy died down until the late 1900s, Redelius said. However, the women’s team in Sweden won every Women’s Bandy World Championship, which has been played five times, Jonsson said.

Redelius worked with the
Swedish Bandy Federation to give women more funding, media attention and practice times as a board member, she said. Despite success women bandy players are sometimes stereotyped. “Many women who play bandy for a long time experience this: ‘How can you be a woman and still play bandy? You must be a lesbian,’” Svender said. “For a woman to be good at bandy, she must have masculine characteristics.”

Though Svender said this experience is less common now, it is still a struggle to play as a woman. However, compared to other countries that play bandy, women have the best opportunities in Sweden, Svender added. For Svender and Redelius it all comes down to a love of the game from history to the speed to the creativity. “It’s a beautiful sport,” Svender said.

photos courtesy of Erik Jonsson

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