Oestersund: A city that loves its sport

  • © WCF / Richard Gray

Dakshiani Palicha joined the World Curling Federation’s media team at the World Mixed Doubles and Senior Curling Championships in Oestersund, Sweden as the latest competition winner of the World Curling Federation Sports Media Trainee Programme.

Originally from Chennai in India, Dakshi had never seen curling live before or visited Sweden. As she describes, what she came across was a community and local authority that is committed to sport in many forms and the good news is that commitment includes curling.

This feature is part of the May 2018: President's Newsletter - www.worldcurling.org/newsletter.

Walking from the city centre of Oestersund to the Östersund Arena, you will come across the Östersunds Curlinghall, the Hofvallen athletic field, the Jämtkraft football stadium, the Östersunds skidstadion stadium for cross-country skiing and biathlon, before finally reaching the Arena itself, which hosted the World Mixed Doubles and Seniors Curling Championships 2018.

If you walked on a parallel road, you would also come across Oestersund’s indoor and outdoor tennis centre, indoor and outdoor aquatic centre, and a horse race-track used primarily for trotting - not a bad array of sporting facilities for a town of some 63,000 people.

The Östersund Arena is a relatively new addition. It was built and opened in 2014 at a cost of €24 million, following a fire at the existing hockey stadium.

Stefan Lund, Secretary General of the Swedish Curling Association gave some of the background, “We had an old hockey arena in the city that burned down. Then they decided to build a bigger space with two sections, so if one section needed to be used for concerts and such, then athletes could use the other one,” says Stefan.

The Arena is primarily used for ice hockey, and first hosted the World Junior-B Curling Championships in 2017. The mixed doubles and senior events were a natural progression as event committee chairman Rickard Hallström explained, “the fortunate thing was that the hockey and figure-skating season was already over, so we had no problem in using this ice. We only had to keep it a few weeks longer”.

He added, “a lot of boards were brought in to make the Arena look better as a curling rink. But, most importantly, all the personnel here were given proper training on preparing and maintaining the curling ice.”

Along with the ice hockey playing areas, a gymnastics hall and a bandy field were built into the facility, and the decision behind these developments is interesting, as Per “Putte” Eby, Events Strategist for the Östersund Municipality, explained, “It was a big political discussion because it cost a lot of money. But we said it had to be made this way because in ice hockey there were 99% boys who play in this city, and in gymnastics there were 99% girls, so it would be for both boys and girls, which is very important.”

The spirit of sports has been present in the city for a long time, according to Putte. He said: “Oestersund used to be a military city. The army wanted access to good sport facilities and equipment, so they developed them here. After the military left more than a decade ago, there was still quite good infrastructure. So, instead of making big army things, they started to make big sports events.

“The second part is that we are quite a small city, 63,000 inhabitants, and we are situated quite far up north in Europe, in the middle of Sweden, quite far from everything. If we are to continue to grow and afford hospitals and schools, the politicians have decided that we have to work very hard to bring events to the city. From curling to football and even cultural events.”

Apart from the recent curling tournaments, Oestersund also hosts regular national and international events, like cross-country skiing championships, and the Östersunds FK football matches. The 2019 Biathlon World Championships and the Biathlon World Cup will be held there. In addition, as a direct result of the availability of facilities, many of Sweden’s Winter Olympians have now moved to Oestersund.

This link with sports has influenced life in the city in more than one way. “Oestersund has always been a very sporty city. Everything that’s happening in town is encouraging people to take part in sports and improve their health. Taking a walk in Oestersund, you see everyone walking, running, cycling and people are still skiing. When people come to this city, they stay at our hotels, they eat in our restaurants and they shop in our streets. So our locals are very happy and the municipality is very happy,” said Putte.

For the World Mixed Doubles and Senior Curling Championships, the local powers-that-be had already done their homework and produced a formal impact assessment that predicted a €1 million economic boost for businesses in the area.

Those are the kind of numbers that will encourage support for future curling events too. With such support from the local authorities and businesses, and a strong curling community in place, it is no surprise that many of those involved in Oestersund are looking to host the international curling family again soon.

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