For as long as I can remember, I have been a supporter of the Swedish football team Mjällby AIF. The club has its roots in Listerlandet in the eastern part of Sweden where I was born and raised. Listerlandet – or plainly Lister – is rural Sweden in a nutshell, and all the people who live in Lister are related to agricultural activities in some way or the other. Truth be told, Mjällby AIF is not a team competing for the top rankings in Allsvenskan, the Swedish equivalent to Premier League, but what we lack in budget and millionaire football players we make up for in heart and integrity. My football team is closely tied to the local, rural society, and Mjällby AIF did not shake the least last week, when the club became the centre of attacks from the animal rights lobby which is quite strong in Sweden. In my line of work such integrity cannot be taken for granted, and I cherish it whenever it happens, so here is a story about football, heart, Lister, fur farmers, and an animal rights lobby so convinced of its own self-righteousness that it will spread whatever misinformation it has at hand in its pursue of a society where people are not allowed to use animals.
Two years ago, I was offered the position as Managing Director of the Swedish Fur Breeders’ Association. At the time, I worked as an editor at a regional Swedish newspaper, a job I liked very much. In the end I could not resist the challenge though. I have lived most of my life in Lister where almost half of the active mink farms in Sweden are located, and having grown up surrounded by farms, I have never really understood all the fuss. Mink farming in Sweden is an agricultural activity just as any other agricultural activity. Everybody in Lister knows that.
So I took on my new job and kept supporting Mjällby AIF through the ups and the downs for the same reason all football supporters’ support their favorite team: it’s a heart thing. Not many football supporters get to support their team the way I had the opportunity this fall though. A football club with one of the smallest budgets in Allsvenskan, the annual training camp was all of a sudden in danger due to financial trouble.
The ties between Lister’s mink farmers and Mjällby AIF are and have always been tight though. All the farmers support the team and many a Mjällby coach and player have worked on a farm, including club icon Sven-Bertil Andersson who played 428 matches for Mjällby while he managed a mink farm in Lister. So I went to the phone and before long the fur community in Lister had raised all the money needed to secure our boys the annual training camp in Cyprus.
When Mjällby calls, the community answers. It has always been like that, and if you ask someone what comes to his mind when hearing ‘Lister’, the answer will be football or mink. Both things are very much the identity of Lister but, of course, our support was not well received by the animal rights lobby.
The (scientifically unsupported) accusations about cruelty from the animal rights lobby are so frequent that I tend to get lost in them, and I don’t remember if Lister’s fur farmers were the cruel ones, or if it was Mjällby AIF for taking the money. In any case the vegans ran into some unpredicted opposition this time. As we know, football supporters have a lot of heart, and no radical philosophers from inner city Stockholm are to dictate who sponsors their team. I was happy to register that football supporters from various teams all over Sweden on social media agreed that animal rights propaganda doesn’t have any play in football politics.
But the animal rights lobby was ready for another round when the Swedish fur breeders’ announced that we were to be match sponsor at Sunday’s Mjällby match against Elfsborg. As a special gimmick we decided to move 13 minks to a miniature mink farm outside the stadium. We know that the best way to convince people about the good conditions on our farms in Sweden is to open the doors and let people see and judge with their own eyes. The regional animal welfare inspector was at place to secure the animals were in good shape (he concluded that the animals were “very calm”), and about 2,000 people went by our farm to see the animals, so I am not afraid to call it a success.
I have the habit of letting farm visitors answer a questionaire, and this time over 200 visitors answered. 87% were positive towards fur farming after the visit, 5% were negative and the rest were neutral. The more people know about fur farming, the more supportive they are towards the sector. This is a pattern we see again and again, also in other European countries, and it is why we open our farms much more than we did in the past. It is simply the best way to contradict the claims from the animal rights lobby.
In the weeks before the match our opponents called for a boycott of the event and bombarded Mjällby and Mjällby’s sponsors with mails in order to stop it. In a way I take it as a good sign. Obviously, the only people who have an interest in not letting the fur farmers show the reality to the public are the members of the animal rights lobby, and by stressing a boycott against a transparency act they really showed their true colors.
But Mjällby AIF did not shake or give in to the pressure. The football club is deeply rooted in the community, and it will not be intimidated. That kind of heart and integrity cannot be taken for granted, and the Swedish fur farmers will proudly continue to sponsor Lister’s Mjällby AIF.