"I want to give back to both Stockholm and Toronto"

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Mats Sundin’s donation to a research exchange programme, the Mats Sundin Fellowship, provides recently graduated doctoral students with two-year scholarships for continuing research on how children’s genes and environment influence their health as adults.

“When I moved home to Sweden in 2009, I’d been living in Canada for 20 years. So I said goodbye to my hockey career and moved on in life. But I was eager to find some way of giving back to Stockholm, where I was born and where I started playing ice hockey, and to Toronto, where I’ve lived much of my adult life and earned my living. I wanted to create something lasting and sustainable that would benefit both cities.

A friend put me in touch with Karolinska Institutet, which turned out to have an established partnership with the University of Toronto. One research project concerned how the first 2,000 days of a person’s life – the prenatal and baby periods – influence the development of common diseases later in life, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. It seemed to be the perfect field for me to get involved in.

When I was team captain in the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was my job to get new, younger players onto the team, and I took that responsibility very seriously. Helping young researchers move up in their careers feels so right. I keep up with the project and am interested in their research results. The research world was unfamiliar to me before I started this project, but over the course of time, I’ve come to notice that it’s not so different from the sports world. Researchers are competitive, goal-oriented, and put their heart and soul into their work. Without that, you’ll never achieve success in research, and it’s the same in athletics too. 

I was interested in making a long-term commitment, so I’m still involved with the Mats Sundin Fellowship and am using my network to bring more people into the project. We held a dinner some time ago at the Canadian embassy here in Stockholm at which we presented the project and the research in the field to about 60 people from the worlds of business and sport. So far I have supported the collaboration between Karolinska Institutet and University of Toronto with SEK 2.2 million. It's my intention to further support the collaboration together with other people in my network."