Listen to the audio (5 mins 5 secs)
“A single error can have far-reaching consequences, both in political life and on the football pitch. In Sweden, the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, of the centre-right Moderate party, recently got himself into the sort of hot water that will be only too familiar to many politicians in Britain. In a classic gaff, he carelessly used the term “ethnic Swedes”; this provoked widespread accusations of racial intolerance. Meanwhile, in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, Mayor Ilmar Reepalu is having problems of his own after making comments that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. This, commentators have suggested, has exacerbated racial unrest in the town.
Sweden has a population of approximately 9.4 million – in demographic terms, roughly the size of Greater London – and the influence of this smallness of scale can be seen everywhere. It is relatively easy, for instance, to get signed up by Sweden’s professional football teams, at least in the lower leagues (though you won’t get paid very much).
The political processes, too, are often less formal than in Britain. The prime minister, for example, can appoint whomever he likes into cabinet positions, whether they are members of parliament or not. Nevertheless, the media controversies of recent weeks have demonstrated that Swedish public figures are often scrutinised just as much as their British counterparts.
It was against this strife-ridden backdrop that a football match took place in Stockholm between the England Writers’ Football Team and the Swedish Writers’ Football Team. It is a little known fact that writers group themselves into national teams and play football against each other. Many end up injured, as writers are generally not used to strenuous physical activity. Invariably, there are comic moments. And notwithstanding occasional moments of acrimony, Writers’ Football games are, on the whole, perfect examples of diplomatic harmony and cultural exchange . . .”