Migrants behind cricket boom in Sweden

5:21 min

One of the most traditional and eccentric of sporting pastimes, cricket, with its silly mid-offs, googlies and no balls, has taken off in Sweden in a big way.

The world's second most popular sport is growing rapidly in Sweden, with 55 teams and 3,000 registered players compared to just 13 teams half a decade ago.

After gaining acceptance last year into the Swedish Sports Confederation, this week Stockholm is hosting the country's first ever international cricket tournament with teams from Germany, Spain, Isle of Man, Gibraltar and Israel.

The surge in popularity, mirrored in Germany, is attributed to an influx of immigrants from Afghanistan and other cricket-loving countries and the sport, invented in England, has been praised for its ability to integrate the new arrivals.

"Integration is a hot topic and in Malmö right now our under-19 team is pretty much 90 percent made up of refugees who have come here without parents," Bilal Zaigham, a batsman with the Swedish national team told Radio Sweden.

"It's massive for them to have some older guys, mentors and coaches that look after them and don't forget all the social events which come with cricket. People don't realise in Sweden that there is a big social element to the game and for a lot of these kids coming here on their own, that's massive," Zaigham said.

Thursday afternoon's match between Sweden and Gibraltar in the ICC's European Division 2 Championship was washed out without a ball being bowled. It is due to be played late Friday afternoon. The top two teams from the round-robin format will gain promotion to division one of the European League. 

While native, non-cricket playing Swedes may be confused about the rules of the game, Englishman David Williman, head of cricket development at the Swedish Cricket Federation, is hopeful that a simplified short version of the game will attract boys and girls who are used to such sports as handball.

"I think the skillsets of handball and hockey fit very well and in fact we have just had the first ladies playing in the men's team and there aren't many sports where women can play in the same team as men."

Sweden is still lagging behind neighbouring Norway in the cricket popularity stakes. The Norwegians invested in the sport over a decade ago.