Sweden’s Hjert anticipates challenging season

With roster changes since Rio 2016, the wheelchair rugby player knows the 2017 Europeans will be a tough battle. 24 Mar 2017
Four wheelchair rugby players fighting for the ball.

Coral Batey of Great Britain, Stefan Janssson of Sweden, Tomas Hjert of Sweden and Bulbul Hussain of Great Britain in action in the wheelchair rugby 5th-6th classification on day 10 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at on September 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images for Tokyo 2020)

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By Beau Greenway | For the IPC

The Swedish wheelchair rugby team will look a lot different than the one that took the courts at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

With changes to their roster since, including a new head coach, Sweden knows the challenge they will face at the upcoming 2017 International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) European Championship, being held 24 June – 1 July in Koblenz, Germany.

Swedish star player Tomas Hjert remains with the national team. But he said it has been difficult since the Paralympics with Sweden managing only one training camp and no tournaments in that time.

“With the players we have now, we cannot look to make any [positive] results at the Europeans, but have to look way into the future,” Hjert said.

“Since we haven't been out playing since Rio, I don't really have a good feel for the opponents yet. But of course Great Britain are huge favourites, even though they lost funding that they had.

Sweden will not have to face the defending champions Great Britain early in the tournament. Having lost to the British in the 2015 finals, Sweden was drawn in Group A with France, Finland and host Germany. Great Britain are in Group B with Denmark, Poland and Ireland.

Sweden has maintained a solid showing at European Championships, finishing outside the podium in one Championships since they hosted the first ever event in Gothenburg back in 1995. But in June, they will need to find a way to retain their spot as Europe’s No.2 ranked team.

Hjert anticipates Denmark and France will also be battling for podium positions and hopes his team can keep up.

Since Rio 2016, Sweden has lost a big chunk of its starting squad, as well as head coach Benoit Labrecque.

Tobias Sandberg, Mikael Norlin, Andreas Collin, Thomas Erikksson, Loa Rissmar and Rickard Loefgren are no longer playing for Sweden.

“This is by far the most troubling time in my [wheelchair] rugby career so far,” Hjert said.

Rio 2016 squad members Glenn Adaszak, Lars Varnerud, Claes Bertilsson, Roger Lindberg, Steffan Jansson are still playing alongside Hjert.

Sweden’s proud history at the IWRF European Championship includes four gold medals in 1997, 1999, 2011 and 2013, silver medals in 1995, 2009, 2015 and bronze in 2005 and 2007. Their best result at a Paralympics Games was fifth at Sydney 2000, combined with sixth place finishes at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

More information on the 2017 IWRF European Championship can be found on the event Facebook page.