Soccer a major expense for young families
The Swedish soccer season will begin this weekend, but many children may be out of luck because their parents can't afford to pay for membership fees.
Although soccer is regarded as a relatively "cheap" sport in Sweden, it can still cost several thousand kronor per year to belong to a team. That's a major expense for a family with a small income. Ibrahim Barsom has a son who plays with Norsborgs IF in southern Stockholm, and he has noticed how many parents struggle to make ends meet.
"It's very tough these days. Many people don't have jobs. If that is the case, how can you afford to let one or two sons or daughters play on a soccer team? You also have to pay for rent, water, electricity and your telephone, and there isn't money for everything. What do you do then?" he tells SR International.
Ibrahim Barsom has observed that many of the parents he knows can't manage the club fees. And the total cost of having a child take part is higher than one might expect.
Ironically, soccer is widely regarded as an accessible sport compared to ice hockey, golf or riding horses. A survey conducted in 2009 among parents of schoolchildren confirmed that soccer is less expensive than most other sports.
Nevertheless, it costs SEK 3,700 over the course of a year on average for a child to belong to a soccer club, if one includes the membership fee, equipment, travel costs, training camps and other activities. That is a figure that even surprised the Swedish Soccer Association.
"Yes, that is what it amounts to. And I am even more surprised to find out that golf is less expensive than soccer. Yes, I was amazed".
Per Widen is in charge of education at the Swedish Soccer Association, but he has not realized that football is an expensive sport for kids
"No, I actually have not realized that. If that is the case, then the problem is handled by the individual clubs, or the regional associations. It hasn't come up with the national soccer association".
But that is a reaction that surprises Peter Nilsson, chairman of Bromstens IK in western Stockholm. This Club draws its members from the low-incomes suburbs of Tensta and Rinkeby, where there are many young families.
"Talented boys and girls who want to play ball but can't afford it, that is a situation we must handle. The sad thing is that we as a club, like many others, have our eye out for the players who are talented. Sometimes I wonder what happens to those who are not so talented and can't afford to belong? They must be invisiblel," he says to SR International.
Children from poorer families are more unlikely than other children to not belong to a sports association, according to a report about children's free time activities compiled by Statistics Sweden recently. Almost two thirds of all Swedish children belonged to a sports club, compared to less than half for the poorest families.
Outside the Swedish Football Association's new headquarters in Solna, across the street from Stockholm's new Friends Arena, the largest shopping centre in Scandinavia is under construction. Inside the building, people are working busily at their computers, preparing for the start of the new football season.
Head of Education Per Widen says that they try to encourage municipalities to lower their fees for sports halls and playing fields so that the local clubs can keep a lid on membership and training fees. But that is about all they can do.