Immigration in Sweden

Back to “Players and Migration”

The migration of players throughout the world is affected by both the migration of professional players and their expensive transfers between clubs as well as the migration of populations between nations. One example of the latter comes from Sweden, which has had comparatively loose immigration control, leading to an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Many of these immigrants end up in the suburb of Rosengård in Malmö, which for decades has been notorious for its crime and its poor economy. In 2007, 21% of the populous was on welfare and 60% of the population was born abroad.1

However, with the influx of people comes an influx of soccer talent, and this soccer talent emerges as symbolic of the area it came from. One such example of this is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was born in Rosengård to Bosnian father and Croatian mother. Because of this background combined with his world-class soccer ability, he has come to represent the immigrant population of Sweden, whether he wanted to or not. To get a glimpse of his talent, just watch some of his goals, such as this2:

However, some ethnic Swedes came to resent Ibrahimovic due to his connections to the immigrant population (problems are often blamed on immigrants, whether they deserve it or not), and he has obtained an reputation as a rash youth, reminiscent of the perceived problems of Rosengård and other immigrant burrows. One such example of this is a claim made about Ibrahimovic’s personality and struggle through his clubs:

“Ajax also struggled to take the ghetto out of the boy. Opposing defenders had a nasty habit of breaking their noses”3

Additionally, he had a tendency to rub people the wrong way. As a youth in Malmö, Ibrahimovic “got himself into trouble for impersonating a policeman in the red-light district of Malmo and ‘arresting’ a kerb crawler.”4 Additionally, he can have a rather brutish way of putting forth his humor in interviews, as can be seen here (caution: strong language is used):5

This rubs some people the wrong way, as they see Zlatan Ibrahimovic as nothing more than an extension of the “immigrant problem,” which in recent years is escalating, as

There is growing acceptance that “the Swedish model”—exceptionally generous welfare policies combined with an exceptionally generous approach to immigration—is now unsustainable.6

With the current economic situation and the rising influx of immigrants to southern Sweden, the tensions are growing between the natives and the immigrants, as some natives blame the immigrants as it is assumed that the immigrants place a greater financial burden on the generous national government.

Football players, though are not judged primarily by where they came and whom they represent, but rather their skill with the ball. This skill alone endeared him to the Swedish populace, and they hailed him as their next footballing hero. However, despite the majority of the populace accepting him as a footballing god, there are those with dissenting opinions. All one has to do to see Ibrahimovic highlighting the racial tensions in Sweden is to glance at a message board about him. One responder claims [Translated]:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t Swedish. Swedish citizen? Yes, of course. An ethnic Swede that should represent our land, culture, and people? No.7

It’s kind of harsh, but this comment represents the feelings of many people who feel threatened by the immigrants. There are arguments to be made that relates the disliking of Ibrahimovic to more personal reasons (his personal actions, etc.), but overall no one gets as bad a rap as him on the national team. Other players, such as Olof Melberg, was been temporally suspended, and received much less condemnation than Ibrahimovic8. Whenever the national team fails, he seems to get personally singled out for failure, and recently announced that he is taking a hiatus from the national side, 9 a move that were surely split the Swedish population as to his representation even further.

Overall, Ibrahimovic highlights the tensions between moving populations in Sweden, and illustrates how national team stars can emerge from immigrant populations. This is drastically different that migration of club team players, who only have simple transfers; national team members of non-national ethnicities often represent a movement of a whole group of people. In this way, the ethnic diversity of the national side comes to symbolize the multi-ethnic nature of the country, and each player represents the changing landscape of the game and the world simultaneously.

  1. ”Områdesfacka: Rosengard.” Jan 2007. Accessed 10-4-09.
  3. Kuper, Simon. “A Ghetto Kid ‘Disses’ Italy’s Soccer Royalty.” Financial Times. London, UK. Apr 14, 2007. Pg. 10.
  4. Caldwell, Christopher. “A Swedish Dilemma.” The Weekly Standard. Washington. Feb 28, 2005. Vol. 10, Iss. 22; pg 19, 5 pgs.
  6. Engel, Matthew. “The new face of Sweden.” Financial Times. London (UK): Jan 19, 2008. Pg 16.
  7. Original Text: “Zlatan Ibrahimovic är inte svensk. Svensk medborgare? Ja, tyvärr. Etnisk svensk som på något sätt representerar vårt land, kultur eller folk? Nej.”
    Schulman, Alex. “Att alska Alex Schulman.” Written 4-19-09. Accessed 10-4-09.

One thought on “Immigration in Sweden

  1. Bianca D'Souza

    It is really interesting to me the selection of the country of Sweden to use as an example of both immigration and soccer talent. Often, when one thinks of soccer talent or a country that would represent talent in soccer well, it is in Latin America, Spain, or the UK. To me it was really fascinating how Sweden was the country chosen and that there truly is so much soccer talent there and politics related to immigrants, especially those famous for being able to play soccer. The article definitely gave me a new perspective on soccer in Europe by using Sweden as an example!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *