Sports Culture in Sweden: The Most Popular Sports & Fitness Habits (Data)

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I’ve been a sports geek my entire life, and have often experienced how different sports cultures can be from country to country. I love getting into new sports when I travel, and when I moved from Sweden to countries like Australia and the US, there were quite a few new ones I had to get acquainted with (that I eventually grew to love watching and playing).

Since the national sports association in Sweden keeps excellent records, I figured I’d compile all the juicy data and list what the most popular sports and fitness activities actually are here in the Nordics.

Maybe you are considering a move or a trip here and are wondering what to expect? Maybe you want to broaden your horizons and learn how Swedes like to exercise? Or maybe you are just a sports nut like me and want to find out more about sports in Sweden out of pure curiosity.

Either way, I’ll walk you through Sweden’s most popular sports by number of participants, by number of spectators, and look at what other trends we can see in how Swedes like to exercise and play sports. Enjoy!

Association Football (soccer) is by far the biggest sport in Sweden, with the most participants, biggest crowds, and highest revenue among all Swedish sports. Other very popular sports include Track & Field, Golf, Ice Hockey, Speedway, and Skiing.

Sweden is also an association sports-heavy country, with the majority of Swedes being a member of either a sports club (association) or gym. Furthermore, almost four out of five Swedes claim to exercise at least once or twice monthly.

Let’s first take a look in more detail how Swedes actually participate in sports on an association level and later on how to exercise like a Swede.

Top 20 sports in Sweden by participation

Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2020

Football (soccer) is by far the most popular sport by number of participants in Sweden, with around 1.2 million active Swedish footballers in 2020. This means one in five Swedish athletes chose football as their sport, with around 6 million active athletes in total in the country.

Sporty Swede balancing a football

Here is the full list of the most popular sports in Sweden by number of participants:

Sport# of Participants in Sweden 2020
Football1 190 922
Track & Field559 280
Golf511 773
Gymnastics394 534
Floorball337 530
Swim Sports249 588
Ice Hockey233 985
MC & Snow Mobile Racing168 397
Equestrian Sports167 903
Handball150 868
Skiing142 227
Basketball130 829
Shooting Sports110 786
Tennis110 654
Martial Arts97 537
Orienteering86 225
Car Racing81 836
Sailing72 062
Cycling68 615
Table Tennis61 681
Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2020

Top 10 sports in Sweden by number of spectators

Source: SVT Sport 2019

When it comes to watching sports, Swedes also strongly prefer football (soccer) with the total of all average attendances landing at 179 526. But Ice Hockey isn’t very far behind, with 129 301 (meaning around 72% of the spectators that football draws).

My local ice hockey team Malmö Redhawks playing in front of a crowd of around 10 000 at Malmö Arena. Photo: Author

Here is the full list ranked by the total sum of average spectators in each sport:

Sport# of Total Average Spectators in Sweden
Ice Hockey129301
Source: SVT Sport 2019

I am personally part of these statistics in the most cliche way possible, as a long-time Malmö FF season ticket holder while also being heavily involved in football on an association level as a coach for my son’s team.

What can I say? It’s a beautiful game. Anyway, I was curious how this translates per game, so let’s take a look at that next.

So how many people attend an average sports game in Sweden?

The average attendance among Allsvenskan teams (Swedish top division in football) was 9 166 per game in 2019, while the average for SHL teams (Ice Hockey) was 6 056 per game.

In 2019 this is how the average attendance for each team in Allsvenskan looked like:

TeamAverage Attendence 2019
Malmö FF16566
IFK Göteborg12837
Helsingborgs IF8344
IFK Norrköping FK8476
Kalmar FF5307
IF Elfsborg5823
IK Sirius FK4288
GIF Sundsvall4620
BK Häcken3631
Falkenbergs FF3732
Athletic Eskilstuna3276
Source: Fotbollskanalen 2019
Malmö FF fans singing “MFF-Hymnen” before an Allsvenskan game. Photo: Author

So the Swedish people love both playing and watching football, but how does the money-end of the equation look? Well, you probably guessed which sport brought in the most money already (yep, it’s football), but let’s see which the other high earners are next.

Top 20 sports in Sweden by Total Revenue

SportsTotal Revenue in SEK
Football575 754 000
Golf129 568 000
Ice hockey109 352 000
Equestrian Sports108 089 000
Floorball84 704 745
Skiing68 334 000
Parasports61 836 000
Swimming54 110 000
Track & Field50 924 000
Gymnastics48 144 985
Orienteering44 906 000
Handball44 831 000
Motorcycle/Snowmobile42 805 989
Basketball42 326 000
Car Racing38 420 602
Ski Shooting38 128 652
Sailing34 859 572
Tennis33 321 000
Floorball25 060 729
Table Tennis24 313 952
Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2019

Football is the Swedish sport that brought in most revenue in 2019, which wasn’t very surprising as it’s by far the most popular sport in Sweden. What’s a little surprising here is that golf brings in the second most revenue out of all Swedish sports, slightly more than ice hockey ( the 2nd biggest spectator sport).

That said, golf is the third most popular sport by number of participants and traditionally an upper-class sport, so it’s not entirely surprising to find it towards the top as far as revenue goes.

A similar observation could be made about Equestrian sports; popular in general and among the higher income brackets (leading to a lot of revenue as a result).

How Do Swedes Exercise?

Swedes love to go on walks, work out at the gym, and go out for a run. Almost four out of five Swedes claims to exercise more than a few times per month, which seems to hold up in my experience.

  1. Walking/power walk/Nordic walk
  2. Weights/gym
  3. Running/jogging
  4. Biking/mountainbiking
  5. Swimming
  6. Group fitness (aerobics, step, zumba, etc.)
  7. Football (soccer)
  8. Downslope skiing/snowboard
  9. Yoga/meditation/chigong/relaxation/etc.
  10. Hiking/trekking

Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2020

Woman out on a Nordic walk (with walking poles) in the snow

When it comes to staying active and exercising, Swedes love to go out for a walk, either the traditional way or in the form of a “power walk” or “Nordic walk” (with walking poles similar to ski poles). After walking, the next most popular form of exercise is hitting the gym, followed by running and biking.

I can personally attest to this as every single Swede I know love going for a good old-fashioned walk, either to stay in shape or just to get from A to B.

Most Swedish cities are filled to the brim with walking trails in parks and nature, pedestrian-only streets filled with shops and food spots, and a high level of walkability in general (meaning it’s pleasant to walk your way around the cities).

How Many Swedes Actually Exercise or Play Sports?

Almost four out of five Swedes claim to exercise at least once or twice per month according to a 2019 poll by SIFO, so in general Swedes like to at least view themselves as a pretty healthy bunch.

Jokes aside, in my experience most Swedes do seem to follow some type of exercise regime, so the numbers are probably fairly accurate in the end.

Gender Differences in Swedish Sports

Another area Sweden usually stands out in (in a good way) is gender equality, but there are definitely sports that are almost entirely dominated by either males or females, can you guess which ones?

The five most male-dominated sports in Sweden

  1. Air Sports
  2. Cricket
  3. American football
  4. Ice Hockey
  5. Motorcycle & Snowmobile Racing

Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2020

American Football is one of the most male-dominated sports in Sweden. Source: @limhamn_griffins Instagram

The most male-dominated sport in Sweden is Air Sports (i.e. competitive flying) with 89% of participants being male. This is closely followed by Cricket with 88%, and American football with 86% of participants being male.

These are generally male-dominated sports else around the world as well, so Sweden doesn’t stand out much here in a global sense.

The five most female-dominated sports in Sweden

  1. Cheerleading
  2. Equestrian Sports
  3. Figure Skating
  4. Gymnastics
  5. Dog Sled Racing

Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2020

The most female-dominated sport in Sweden is without a doubt Cheerleading, with 97% of participants being female. Equestrian sports are also mostly female with 92%, followed by Figure Skating with 82% female participants.

My sister with her horse

As my sister has been into equestrian sports her entire life, I have been dragged into the occasional horse event. In this capacity, I can confirm that almost everyone involved in horseback riding is female, with the occasional male horse enthusiast sprinkled in every now and then.

A unique sport for the Nordic region that is mostly dominated by women is dog-sledding, which involves competitions between dog-sledding teams in the winter landscapes around the arctic circle. There were a total of 8926 dog-sledders in Sweden in 2020.

Dog Sled Team

I have not sat in a dog sled, but I have raced around in a reindeer sled up in Swedish Norrland—I’m guessing dogs are better at following commands than my reindeer was!

Summary – What is Ultimately the Biggest Sport in Sweden?

There is no doubt that football (soccer) is the number one sport in Sweden on all levels possible, having more than twice the participants of the second most popular sport (Track & Field). Football also draws the largest crowds, and as a result brings in the most revenue.

When it comes to exercise it’s all about walking for Swedes, and this simple form of exercise might be key to why most Swedes follow some sort of exercise regime.


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By Karl Andersson

As a native Swede with a Finnish mother, Karl identifies as both Nordic and Scandinavian. He left Sweden at 19 to explore the world, and stayed abroad for almost 8 years—during which he backpacked, worked every job there was, earned a degree from UC Berkeley, and met the future mother of his children. He ultimately returned to his native Malmö with his love, where they now have 3 Swedish-American boys eager to explore the world.

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