by Will Clark
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Introduction & Fifa Rankings
The Swedish Women’s National Team is currently ranked 5th in the world, being ranked 4th on average since the inception of the ranking system and reaching a low point of 6th in between 2012 and 2013 (FIFA “Women’s Ranking”). The skilled group has been relatively successful in recent history, earning 2nd place in the World Cup in 2003 and 3rd in 2013, it has failed to bring home a total victory and is yet to win an Olympic gold medal. While some of the other countries with highly ranked national teams have had older informal or since extinct professional leagues, Damallsvenskan is the oldest established league in the group, and the long-standing existence of a professional league alongside a internationally recognized national team reveals a clear interest in women’s soccer in Sweden; Damallsvenskan is consistently identified as one of the three best women’s professional leagues in the world, demonstrating a solid success in maintaining the popularity of a permanent women’s professional league in the Scandinavian country (Henderson).
On the other hand, Swedish Men’s National Team sits at 39th in the FIFA rankings, with a low ranking of 44th in 2014 (“Men’s Ranking”). The team has been ranked 20th on average from the beginning of the ranking system, however, it should be noted that the men’s rankings have existed for an additional ten years and the team has consistently declined in standing over the past two decades. Furthermore, it has accomplished little over the past three World Cups, making it to the Round of 16 in Germany and failing to even qualify in South Africa or Brazil. Professionally, the Swedish Allsvenskan men’s league is ranked 22nd internationally by the Union of European Football Associations, showing a correspondence between a weaker national team and an unsteady professional league (“UEFA rankings for club competitions”).
This page will cover various characteristics of one of the strongest women’s professional leagues, the Swedish Damallsvenskan, in a country where female soccer players have often been proven more successful than their male counterparts.
History of the League
The first organized women’s soccer match occurred in Stockholm in 1918, but the practice was not accepted as women were typically only socially expected to play in friendly matches against men to raise money for charity (Hjelm). Yet, with the football movement ensuing in the following half of a century, the rise in the number of men’s soccer leagues allowed for the creation of the first amateur female soccer league, Umeä in the 1960s. Subsequently, Swedish women’s soccer experienced a monumental increase in the number of qualified players during the 1970s, prompted by an effort to create better organization for female participants of the sport; from 1970 to 1980, the number of licensed female soccer players in the country increased from 728 to 26,000 (Hjelm). Furthermore, an increasing willingness of the media to cover women’s soccer (sometimes supporting female entrance into the previously male domain, but often critical or disapproving) helped give the sport the larger exposure it needed to expand. Along with these media developments, the first Swedish Women’s National Championship contest took place as early as 1973 and the first women’s professional league, the Damallsvenskan, was formed in 1988 and has remained one of the most prominent women’s professional leagues in the world. In 2013, Damallsvenskan partnered with the Elitettan, in order to relegate underperforming teams and promote rising squads. Since the introduction of the championship, FC Rosengård, formerly known as Malmö FF and later LdB FC Malmö, has emerged victorious 9 times. The following two cup leaders are Umeå IK FF, with 7 victories, and AIK with five.
The Damallsvenskan has featured a variety of notable players throughout the league’s existence. The top goal scorers in recent years include international stars such as Marta of Brazil and the German women’s soccer player, Anja Mittag, both extremely valuable members of their countries’ national teams. A number of highly skilled American women’s soccer players who are widely known to the public have also played in the Damallsvenskan; Hope Solo, the United States’ powerfully defensive goalkeeper, played for Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, and Christen Press, a young and promising attacking star from Los Angeles, played for Tyresö FF. Other notable players that have or currently play in the league include Hanna Ljungberg, Lisa De Vanna, Nadine Angerer, and Daniela.
The season lasts from mid-April until mid-October, with each team playing 22 games (11 home and 11 away). However, if teams are successful in the regular season and make it to the extremely revered Swedish Cup and Women’s Champion league competitions, their seasons can extend to be nearly ten months long, much longer than the seasons of other notable professional leagues. Damallsvenskan uses the same rules and regulations as the UEFA. Teams are awarded two points for a win, one for a draw, and earn zero points upon taking a loss. The two highest placed teams qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions league; the two lowest placed teams are relegated to the Elitettan, while the two best performing teams in that league are promoted to Damallsvenskan. There are five lower leagues than the Damallsvenskan, all eligible to play in the Swedish Cup, however, none eligible for the champions league. Clubs can have no more than 25 players listed during the regular season, including two goalkeepers.
The Swedish Cup (or Svenska Cupen) was founded in 1981 and is Sweden’s female domestic soccer tournament. It is a classic knockout tournament, where teams are removed from the contest immediately following a loss. From the first round of 80, all teams in tier 3 or below are eligible to compete and follow the typical knockout process through the second round until the third round, where the Damallsvenskan teams are incorporated. The tournament is concluded after 7 rounds where a winner emerges; the most recent victor of the Svenska Cupen is Linköpings FC, and the three teams with the highest number of past cup wins are Öxabäcks IF, Umeå IK, and Linköpings FC. The Allsvenskan also manages its own Svenska Cupen separately.
The league contains 12 teams: FC Rosengård, Hammarby IF DFF, Kopparbergs/ Göteborg FC, Eskilstuna United DFF, Kristianstads DFF, Vittsjö GIK, Linköpings FC, Piteå IF, Umeå IK FF, Mallbackens IF Sunne, AIK, and KIF Örebro DFF. Elittetan, the relegation league, contains fourteen clubs vying for entrance into the Damallsvenskan: Djurgårdens IF, Hammarby IF, Hovås Billdal IF, IF Limhamn Bunkeflo, IFK Kalmar, IK Sirius FK, Kvarnsvedens IK, Mallbackens IF, QBIK, Sundsvalls DFF, Sunnanå SK, Umeå Södra FF, Älta IF, Östers IF.
Women’s Professional Leagues vs. Men’s Professional Leagues
As mentioned earlier in the page, the Damallsvenskan has a male counterpart in the Allsvenskan. While the Swedish women’s professional league is more highly valued on a rankings basis, as is the women’s national team compared to the men’s national team, there are a couple of factors that differentiate the Allsvenskan and its players from the female players in the Damallsvenskan.
One of the difficulties of playing in the Damallsvenskan is the fact that professional athletes are not being paid in that manner. As noted on partnering United States page, women playing in the NWSL can make anywhere from six thousand to thirty thousand dollars, drastically low wages for their perceived value; female soccer players in the Damallsvenskan are being paid to a similarly low degree, with salaries averaging at around eleven hundred dollars per month (Kjær). While there are a few players with significantly higher salaries than that, there is an expansive gap between the highest and lowest paid players, making it necessary for many soccer players in the Damallsvenskan to take work outside of playing in the league. In an article by ESPN, it is expressed by current players in the league that only those who make over $2700 per month truly have the ability monetarily to focus solely on playing soccer (Henderson). Male soccer players conversely have higher salaries due to the increased revenue from a higher level of sponsorship of their teams, leading a number of them to not need secondary jobs. These disparities definitely make life harder for female soccer players in the Damallsvenskan; the increased stress and exhaustion from taking on a second full-time job after intense daily exercise places a heavy burden on a large portion of league participants.
Another interesting aspect that differentiates the Damallsvenskan from the Allsvenskan is the large gap between immigrant players active in the former. According to data gathered by scholars Sine Agergaard and Nina Clara Tiesler, Sweden has the third-highest number of immigrant players following the United States and Germany respectively, with 47 (Agergaard and Tiesler). And as mentioned above, some of the world’s best players have played in the Damallsvenskan, many of them impact players on their own national teams. In an article on Deadspin, a number of American players give their opinion on the league, claiming that the culture of Sweden along with the stability of the league and the ability to gain experience as some of the most valuable members of their teams, make the choice to play in the Damallsvenskan much more enticing then possibly facing a situation of the league breaking down (McCann). This immigration does provide a greater opportunity for women to increase their skills, however, as alluded to in the previously mentioned article, it can create certain challenges for immigrant players, such as extensive travel and the need to adapt to a quicker and more technical playing style. Due to its lower UEFA rank among other international club leagues, the Allsvenskan does not provide an enticing opportunity for skilled players to immigrate when they can look elsewhere in the more revered leagues, such as those in England or Italy.
Attendance and TV Coverage
Another difference between the Allsvenskan and the Damallsvenskan lies in the difference in attendance of games between the two leagues. In an article on women’s soccer in Denmark and Sweden, data shows that the average attendance at a women’s soccer game in 2012 was 856 people (Kjær). Furthermore, in the previously mentioned Deadspin article, it is observed that an over-capacity stadium at a UEFA Women’s Champions League game has an attendance of around 3,300 people. The author notes in the same article that a men’s game of the same magnitude would have elicited such a large group of people that the Swedish authorities would have had to manage the crowds; the largest men’s stadium in Sweden can house around 54,000 people, nearly 17 times the size of the crowd. In terms of television coverage, both teams are broadcast on the Swedish sports channel, TV4 Sport, however, Allsvenskan games are also broadcast in other European countries and are available on pay-per-view. Again, there is a surprising disparity between the skill of the players in the league relative to other international leagues, and the value placed by society on these leagues.
Relationship to National Team
The Damallsvenskan contains a high number of players that go on to play on the Swedish Women’s National Team. That being said, compared to teams like the United States, there are more players on the team that play in the leagues of other countries than in other national teams. By looking at the squad roster, we can see that two of the 23 players on the team play for English clubs, five for French clubs, and one for a German club; conversely, on the United States Women’s National Team, not a single player on the starting squad plays for a club in another country’s league. This difference may show that the quality of the Damallsvenskan is declining or the salaries are not high enough for some of the best women in the country to stay; two of the five star players mentioned on the team’s FIFA page play for clubs located in other countries.
Current Events (As of May 1st)
It was announced earlier this year that TV4 will be the first television network in the world to broadcast all of the season games of a professional women’s soccer league. This current contract with the Damallsvenskan will extend coverage of games and is garnering a great reception from officials in the league and women’s soccer. FIFA Female Committee Chairman, Moya Dodd expressed her excitement surrounding the new television deal, describing the televising of one of the best women’s professional leagues in the world as a great way to expose and extend the professionalism of female athletes from all countries.
“Women’s Ranking.” FIFA. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/fifa-world-ranking/
“Men’s Ranking.” FIFA. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/fifa-world-ranking/
“Swedish League Soccer Stars Work Overtime.” ESPNW. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
“UEFA rankings for club competitions.” UEFA. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.uefa.com/
“Swedish champions & audience average 1973-.” Swedish F.A. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
“Elitettan.” Swedish F.A. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://svenskfotboll.se/elitettan/>.
“Can Women’s Pro Soccer Work In America? An Investigation, In Sweden.” Deadspin. N.p., n.d. Web. 1
May 2015. <http://deadspin.com/
“Profile.” FIFA. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/teams/
“TV4’s damsatsning: ‘It is historically.'” Fotboll. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
Kjær, Jørgen Bagger. “Understanding women’s professional soccer: The case of Denmark and Sweden.”
Soccer and society: n. pag. Print.
Hjelm, Jonny. “The bad female football player.” Soccer and society: n. pag. Print.