The world’s oldest modern university in the field of sports

The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, GIH, has a long and impressive legacy. In 1813, Pehr Henrik Ling founded the educational institution Gymnastiska Centralinstitutet (Royal Gymnastics Central Institute), GCI, in Stockholm. He then developed the Ling gymnastics, a strong contribution to the history of international pedagogy.

PH Lings byst med böcker och ipad

Pehr Henrik Ling

Pehr Henrik Ling was born in 1776 in Södra Ljunga in southern Sweden. From an early age he showed great talent in gymnastics. He was also driven by an interest in literature, and in 1835 he was elected to the Swedish Academy.

After Pehr Henrik Ling’s passing in 1839, the book “The General Basics of Gymnastic” was published, presenting the most prominent elements of his gymnastics philosophy. The ideas were further developed at GCI by his son Hjalmar, who established the traditional so called Ling gymnastics.

In addition to educational gymnastics, GCI also was a center for physiotherapy. From 1934, physiotherapy belonged to the Karolinska Institute although the education was located at GCI until 1958.

Exporting gymnastics

The Ling gymnastics quickly earned a reputation both in Sweden and abroad, mainly within physical education in school and the military. Foreign visits and course participation at GCI became very frequent, and the school welcomed several exchange students and teachers from various universities around the world. After the second world war, interest in the Ling gymnastics and GCI began to decline, mainly due to the increasing popularity of competitive sports.

From the beginning GCI students were all in the military, but the civilian proportion gradually grew both among students and teachers. The first women started at GCI already in the 1860’s.

GCI becomes GIH

Based on the decline of gymnastics and the prevalence of sports in society, GCI was renamed Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, GIH (the Swedish School of Sports and Health Sciences), in 1966. The same year GIH also started in Örebro and both schools were assigned by the national government to meet the lack of physical education teachers in Sweden. After the reformation of Swedish universities and colleges in 1977, GIH Örebro belonged to Örebro college.

During 1977–1992, GIH Stockholm belonged to Lärarhögskolan (teacher training college) in Stockholm. GIH was then renamed Idrottshögskolan i Stockholm, IH, and has been an independent college ever since. The new name was never truly established in the general public, and from 2005 the school has its previous name Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, GIH. The history of GIH is impressive and today GIH is considered the world’s oldest modern sports university.

A hub of sports

GIH has its location in Stockholm’s sports centers. The neighbors are Stockholm Stadium known from the 1912 Olympic games, the Östermalm sports arena, the Royal Tennis Club of Stockholm, the national Equestrian arena, and the Swedish Olympic Committee. The vast, natural Eco park spreads out to the north and holds the classic ski center Fiskartorpet.

Further reading about GIH's history

Professor Jan Lindroth has written an essay with some important points in GIH's history.

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Last modified:21 Nov 2023