Stockholm will hold its annual Pride Parade this coming Saturday, August 1 and for the second year in a row the Swedish hockey club Kiruna IF will march in the parade. What’s different this year is that the team’s chairman Johan Kohler is publicly calling for other clubs to join Kiruna.
Kiruna plays in Hockeyettan, the third division Swedish league, and Kohler wants more teams from the league to join Kiruna.
In a statement on the team’s site, via TheLocal.se, Kohler says:
The parade has a sports section where I want to see all the clubs, as well as mine, standing up for everyone’s right to play sports without fear of harassment or being insulted.
So, if you are the chairman or another association leader, put on your match or competition gear and walk with me!
The Local says that “a handful of clubs have said they will join,” citing that teams are on holiday so many are saying they are unavailable to participate.
Kiruna and their rainbow jersey they sported last season may be familiar to many. They made news last summer when they became the first Swedish sports club to get “LGBT-certification” from the Swedish gay rights organization RFSL. That certification involves education initiatives, a review of club policies, and establishing facilities for transexual players. The Local added that the process takes about six months.
This season, the team will sport new, though similarly themed, jerseys, which they unveiled last month.
Här är den, Kiruna IF's nya matchtröja. Originaltröjan, var dispens gått ut, kommer dock alltid att leva vidare! pic.twitter.com/sWUoG0MYkP
— Kiruna IF (@KirunaIF) June 25, 2015
Kohler didn’t just put the team in those noted jerseys though, he has instituted meaningful change inside the organization. “[I]mportantly we would walk the talk and live by these new rules… If any ice hockey players are caught not following the rules then they have to quit,” he told The Local, adding that the Swedish professional leagues do not currently have an openly gay player.
The Local notes that this may be in part because of the place hockey holds in Sweden as the big sport and a “macho” space nationally. “Ice hockey has a history of homophobia. In 1995 Lars Peter Karlsson, a gay ice hockey player for Västerås, was stabbed to death in a suspected homophobic attack,” The Local says.
Kohler sees the potential for driving change by taking the lead in Sweden. “We want to set a good example of how people should behave within the sport and we aim to make Kiruna the most tolerant town in Sweden in five years,” he told The Local.