Global warming and war: bandy has to reinvent itself

Hockey on ice in the open air. Preferably on a large, open lake in the northern regions of the world: bandy, officially an outdoor sport, but it has been played on artificial ice for years. Partly due to climate change. Also at the World Cup in Sweden. How a sport unknown in the most of Europe and the world has to reinvent itself.

By Walter Tempelman

Without a medal, but smiling broadly, the Dutch bandy women step off the artificial ice. A fourth place – the battle for bronze was lost to the United States – and another adventure in the pocket in a sport that is hardly practiced in the Netherlands. The Dutch women’s and men’s teams are teams of friends who put in time and energy to be present at the world championship in the bandy-crazy village of Åby.

Bandy is played with eleven against eleven, on an immense ice rink the size of a football field. With a rolling pink ball instead of a sliding black puck like in ice hockey. It is the predecessor of hockey, the name of which is hidden in some hockey associations. The b in AH&BC, the official name of Amsterdam? Right, that’s the b of bandy. Yet the sport has not stuck in the Dutch culture, bandy is only played at four associations with Nijmegen as the largest supplier of the national teams. “We are not affiliated with out national committee, we are too small for that,” says Frank Peters of the Bandybond Nederland. “And so we are not funded. We always try to go to World Championships, but it remains a fight to finance those trips.”

Helgasjön Lake, three hundred meters away from the indoor arena
Sweden vs USA
Swedish fans with flag and drum

Climate change

The difference in experience and popularity of the sport with Sweden is enormous. Bandy is popular. Together with Russia (more on that later), Sweden is leading in bandy. There are bandy schools, players are (semi-)pros and the most important matches of the season are attended by thousands of fans. The finals of the top competition, the Elitserien, are often played on Uppsala’s outdoor artificial ice rink. Historically, bandy has been an outdoor sport. A match on the frozen water of a lake or a large flooded lawn is seen by the purists as the real bandy.

In many northern areas of the world it is still possible to play on natural ice. But the sport has to deal with a big problem: climate change. “Long-term natural ice can only be found in the north of Sweden,” says Lars Wennerholm of the Swedish Bandy Federation. “It’s such a shame because outdoor bandy is really beautiful. I want the winter back, the snow, the cold,” the Swede muses. “But we humans are destroying the earth, we have to rebuild it ourselves.”

The reparations in the sport is accompanied by the construction of artificial ice rinks. A bandy arena is on average 120 meters long and 75 meters wide and needs a lot of energy. The new stadiums will be built climate-neutral, with mobile cooling machines. Solar panels provide the self-sufficient character. No games are played in the summer. Some arenas turn off the refrigeration equipment, causing the ice to disappear for a few months, but other stadiums use the residual heat to power other facilities in the village. There are 74 artificial ice rinks for bandy in Sweden, twenty of which are real stadiums.

Bandy crazy

Climate change is something they know all too well in the bandy-crazy town of Åby, southern Sweden, where the World Cup is being held. For years it has had an effect on the sport that the close-knit community is so devoted to. Until the 1970s, games were played on Helgasjön Lake, three hundred meters away. The water, which in the past has so often carried the bandy players month after month in solid form, flows soothingly from left to right this winter. “We want to play bandy from October to March,” says 80-year-old Ove Svensson, the man who was chairman of Åby/Tjureda IF for 56 years until last year. “But already at the end of the eighties it got too hot and it rained more often, we had to do something.”

An indoor arena was built in 2019 around the ice rink, which was built in 1988. The club performed so well that it was promoted to the top division, after which the association demanded that indoors be played at that top level. The community was ready. “Bandy is in our genes, in our culture. Everyone helped, we built that entire stadium in six months. Great to see.”

The Dutch teams have to play in their own country with the few resources they have. A bandy track? No, in the Netherlands, leading country in speed skating, bandy is played on an ice hockey field. Then it’s called rinkbandy. “It would be great if we could build a real, large bandy track in the Netherlands. We can combine it with speed skating, short track, curling, you name it, but it will not happen in the short term,” Peters predicts. At the World Championship, the Dutch will therefore play on a larger field than they are used to in their own country. Longer distances, difference in depth.


Sweden, supported by just under 2000 supporters, can freewheel to gold in both the men’s and the women’s tournament. Record world champion Russia, with their professionals and top leagues, is no longer welcome in the international bandy world. Due to the war in Ukraine, the country is banned from the World Cup. If it is up to Wennerholm, we will not see them again for the time being. “I hope that as a country we can keep them out for a long time. What Russia has done to the Ukrainian people defies imagination. The actions of the aggressor Mr. Putin have many consequences for Ukraine and for Europe.”

A clear position, which appears to be shared by many Swedes. The mood is one of unconditional support for Ukraine and cautious fear of Russian aggression and expansionism. High-ranking officials in the international league have been replaced by people of other nationalities, Russia is out. That has a downside for the sport, which everyone is willing to accept. In the past, bandy relied on the financial strength of the Russians. “The TV and advertising rights were bought off by the organizing country, often Russia. That money was used by the world federation to cover other costs, for example the accommodation costs of the participating countries.”

Those countries now have to pay for everything themselves, the till is empty. In a small sport with little money, some drop out. Where the United States has made the long journey, Japan and Great Britain, for example, are not among them. The World Cup therefore has only six women’s teams and eleven men’s teams. “We lost a few countries, that’s right,” says Wennerholm. “But we have to build a new base, without the Russians. For example, by also looking at sponsorship of the teams. We are doing that for the first time this year, the previous two years we had to deal with another crisis, the pandemic, so we did not have a World Cup at all.”

Climate change and a war. The age-old sport of bandy has to reinvent itself. “We are still in a bit of a downward spiral, but we can already see the way up. We are happy with the enthusiastic Dutch people! The other countries will return. The future is sunny and hopefully a little cold too!” says Wennerholm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *