At the start of a big year for football in his country, the president of the Swedish Football Association (SvFF), Karl-Erik Nilsson, has visited the House of European Football in Nyon.
Mr Nilsson, a former international referee who was elected SvFF president last March, held talks with UEFA President Michel Platini and senior UEFA officials on relations between UEFA and the Swedish FA. He also gave an update on preparations for this summer's eagerly awaited UEFA Women's EURO 2013, which will take place in Sweden between 10 and 28 July.
Twelve nations will participate in the blue-riband event for European women's national teams. Each group will be played at two venues: Group A at Gamla Ullevi (Gothenburg) and Örjans Vall (Halmstad), Group B at Öster Arena (Vaxjo) and Kalmar Arena (Kalmar), and Group C at Nya Parken (Norrkoping) and Linköping Arena (Linkoping). The quarter-finals will be held in Halmstad, Vaxjo, Linkoping and Kalmar, and the semi-finals at Gothenburg and Norrkoping. The final will be at the new national Friends Arena in Solna.
Mr Nilsson is looking forward to watching the continent's football stars perform on such a stage in his country. Sweden, who won the first European women's tournament in 1984, were previously joint hosts with Norway for the inaugural eight-team Women's EURO in 1997, and hosted the FIFA Women's World Cup in 1995.
"Now we come to a new phase," he told UEFA.com. "The draw is done, the host cities know which teams they are going to have, and the interest is growing as we get closer to the tournament. It's also important as organisers that we have a good focus on our own national team – what can be better than our national coach Pia Sundhage just winning the FIFA Women's Coach of the Year award? So the spirit around our team is very positive.
"The tournament takes place in the period when people go on holiday," the SvFF president added. "So we hope that supporters will take the opportunity to come with their team. We want to see supporters of the other 11 teams arriving in Sweden to celebrate together with their players. To have a successful tournament, we need a lot of spectators, and good atmospheres in the stadiums and the host cities."
After working as a teacher in Kalmar schools and serving as mayor of his home town Emmaboda, from 1995 until 2006, Mr Nilsson's first post in football administration was at local club Lindås BK. He started out as a referee in the 1980s, and went on to officiate in the UEFA Champions League and at UEFA EURO 2000. Before his election as SvFF president, he was a member of the board, as well as president of the Bohuslan regional association. He was tournament director at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, and various other UEFA assignments included working as a referee observer and mentor for younger officials.
"This is an opportunity to meet the people that you need to have a contact with, and in a relaxed atmosphere," he said of his current visit to UEFA. "I've been here many times before, especially during my long career as a referee, but in my new position it's excellent to come closer to each other to discuss important issues. The support that Sweden and other countries get from UEFA under HatTrick and other projects is of crucial importance, because the associations are given the possibility to develop, especially when we talk about infrastructures, sporting development, and so on."
Over the years, Sweden has contributed considerably to the world game, as well as being a careful parent of grassroots football. Karl-Erik Nilsson feels that the two levels complement each other. "Nowadays, people are moving from the countryside to the bigger cities, and in Sweden we have a small club in every village – so one challenge is to keep these clubs running as they are of great importance in those local areas.
"We also need successful top club football, male and female, and this is a great challenge," he reflected. "We need good, strong development at the top, but we also need to keep the small clubs, because they are producing the talent of the future. The most important thing is that football continues to be the No1 sport – among TV viewers, on the marketing side, among young people – football must continue to be strong at its different levels and within society."
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