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The Finnish post office Posti has announced that it’s cutting 59 positions, and transferring another 14 jobs to Tallinn.

Negotiations on redundancies have already started, although the number of people facing unemployment is less than the 106 positions that were originally under threat.

Over the past decade there’s been a huge reduction in the amount of mail being sent by businesses and private individuals as more people switch to electronic forms of communication. That means Posti has needed to cut jobs and restructure their services to stay solvent.

Posti says some jobs will be redeployed to Tallinn, but that move has been criticised by unions.

“Is this the future for Finnish workers? We are sent over the borders, to work on God knows what employment terms, as long as companies cut their costs” says Posti worker Milja Sandberg.

Posti is looking to save up to €200 million in costs, as they expect post distribution volumes to fall even further.

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Finland’s United Nations Ambassador has hit back online over health care criticisms leveled at the Nordic nation.

Writing on Twitter, Nikki Haley said that health care costs in America are too high, but “comparing us to Finland is ridiculous. Ask them how their health care is. You won’t like the answer”. She was replying to Bernie Sanders who had highlighted the high cost of having a baby in America versus the low cost of having a baby in Finland.

Haley is the former American Ambassador to the United Nations, formerly considered a close ally of Donald Trump, but who quit her post at the end of last year as a possible prelude to running against Trump for the Republican Party 2020 presidential nomination.

File picture of Kai Sauer at the United Nations / Credit: Aura Lehtonen

Finland’s top diplomat at the United Nations wasn’t going to take those criticisms laying down, and Ambassador Kai Sauer hit back in a series of fact-based tweets that have been shared or liked more than 17,000 times – and counting!

“Here some facts: Finland has a high performing health system, with remarkable good quality in both primary and hospital care. The country also achieves good health status at relatively low level of health spending (OECD)” writes Sauer.

“Finland has the world’s third lowest infant mortality rate (UN, SDG Indicators). Maternal mortality is the lowest in the world in Finland. (WHO)” the 52-year old diplomat.

“Finland has the second lowest total mortality from cancer in EU countries” he , getting into the swing of countering Haley’s criticism with facts.

Sauer brought his Twitter game home with one final mic drop:

“Apologies for the delayed reply” he wrote “but we were out celebrating our rank as the happiest country of the world.”

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A new training centre for some of Finland’s most successful athletes has opened in downtown Helsinki.

It’s where the country’s elite players will hone their skills: but you won’t see a running track, astroturf or weights.

Instead, the training centre is outfitted with rows of brand new desks and computers, to train the esports athletes looking to conquer the world and earn some serious money in the process.

In terms of revenue won, esports is currently one of the top-ranked sports in Finland, but there are still major hurdles to being taken seriously as professional athletes, as well as bureaucratic struggles.

Esports athletes are funded like children, but taxed as adults.

File picture of Shelter Game Room CEO Tuomas Konttinen / Credit: News Now Finland

New training centre open for business

For anyone wanting to get their start in esports, the new Shelter Game Room in Helsinki could provide the perfect launch pad.

“At the moment I don’t think there’s enough gaming facilities in Finland” says Shelter CEO Tuomas Konttinen, sitting among the rows of computers and high-backed chairs.

Located in Kaisaniemi, the centre is partly funded by a private equity furm, and fully equipped with high-spec gaming computers and work stations. Open to anyone, it allows new players to train, and coaches to work with teams.

“There’s a lot of gaming computers! We like to think and feel that when customers arrive they see a really really cosy atmosphere, a lounge vibe when they arrive. The kind of thing you wouldn’t think that comes to mind when people talk about gaming halls” he explains.

Each station is equipped with a powerful computer to processes the games, fast graphics card and a 1GB internet connection, which allows esports athletes to train and compete with other players around the world.

Katowice stadium for esport final / Credit: Jussi Jääskeläinen, Twitter

Finns make competition breakthrough

Earlier this month Finnish esports made a major breakthrough when the ENCE team came second in a big European competition.

Their success wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Last November ENCE athlete Joona Sotala claimed a World Championship when he won €280,000 and became the first player from outside South Korea to win the StarCraft II title.

March’s European tournament took place at an arena in Poland with a 10,000 spectator capacity, and brought together the top 24 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive CS:GO players in the world, battling for a cash pot of one million US dollars.

A multi-player shooter game, CS:GO has some of the hottest action on the Finnish esports scene at the moment, with two opposing teams playing the roles of terrorists, and counter-terrorists, as the action unfolds.

At the Poland tournament, ENCE exceeded pre-competition expectations and bagged $150,000 for their second place finish – a dream result for the four-man team.

File picture of Nyyrikki Esport manager Joseph Blewitt / Credit: J. Blewitt

“The ENCE organisation has been a defining factor in how Finnish esports is viewed globally for their work in CS:GO primarily” says Joseph Blewitt, Chief Operating Officer at Nyyrikki Esports Oy.

“In recent years, there has always been one or two top tier teams per region and Finland didn’t have that for a period of time and it resulted in players not seeing a natural progression within the country to the top and instead lead to people competing with international lineups to fulfill their dreams” Blewitt tells News Now Finland.

The standard of CS:GO players in Finland has improved over the past few years: as has the standard of esports athletes playing games like NHL, FIFA, StarCraft II, League of Legends and DOTA 2.

The earnings figures speak for themselves. So far this year, Finnish gamers have already made almost $694,000, and rank 6th on the international earnings charts – ahead of Sweden, which traditional was a more dominant esports nation.

“The main reason why ENCE’s achievements are so amazing for the Finnish scene is because the Finnish scene has never had such great heights. The Nordics have always been dominated by Sweden and Denmark and therefore Finland has always seen these other teams compete at the top and now finally Finland has a team to aspire to and support on the global stage” says Blewitt.

File picture of esport gamer playing / Credit: News Now Finland

Growing esports awareness in Finland

A former professional gamer-turned-manager, Joseph Blewitt came to Finland in 2016 in part at the urging of Finnish friends, but also with the aim of building up Finnish esports from the inside.

“When I joined the Finnish scene there was a real lack of professionalism and infrastructure that other neighbouring Nordic countries have benefited from for years previous. Finland needed an injection of support” Blewitt explains.

“There was maybe one coach in the Finnish scene in the largest esport in Finland, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. There was also hardly any salaried teams and there was only one true role model in the scene” he continues.

One of the biggest obstacles holding back the development of esports in the country, according to Blewitt, is that betting companies are not allowed to partner with esports teams, as they are in Sweden or Denmark. That cooperation has given a significant financial boost to Finland’s competitors.

However, conditions are slowly changing in Finland as other corporate sponsors see the potential of getting involved with esports teams, just as they might with more traditional sports teams.

Esports teams have started to introduce small monthly salaries for players, and the number of coaches has also increased. But still, hardly anyone is paid fully for their services, and esports organisations struggle to financially support them at a grassroots level.

Sport, or unhealthy obsession? 

Over the last year or so, industry insiders have seen a shift in attitudes towards esports, especially in the media as gamers fight against stereotypes that what they do isn’t really ‘sport’, but an ‘unhealthy obsession’.

The misconceptions about esports is also reflected in how the government views them.

Last year, Minister for Sport Sampo Terho (Blue) highlighted the question about whether esports should be considered as a type of youth work, or a sport.

According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, esports have so far been treated as a youth culture phenomenon, and is supported with financial help for youth culture programmes, rather than being treated and funded like a sport.

At the same time, the Finnish Tax Authority Vero considers the income earned from playing esports, and any small monthly stipend that team members receive, to be sports-related earnings. And they’re taxed as such.

The Ministry concedes that the structures of esports are similar to traditional sports, even though the sport in general is still growing and infrastructure is developing over time. Yet they’re not providing funding on the same level of more traditional sports, despite the minister saying he’s looking for ways to give esports a more prominent profile.

File picture of Tuomas Konttinen playing / Credit: News Now Finland

Getting started in esport 

So how do talented amateur gamers get their start on the track to being professional esports athletes?

Joseph Blewitt from Nyyrikki Esports says competition against other players is the way in.

“Individuals start their esports journey as regular players in the ranked side of games to see how they can compete against other people that have a competitive personality trait.” explains Joseph Blewitt from Nyyrikki Esports.

”This then naturally leads to those people finding like-minded others and competing in various leagues or tournaments online and at events to promote their talent.”

The role of formal esports organisations – and later teams – is to spot those players, pick them up and work with them to develop their future potential as professionals.

Having a dedicated training centre available for esports could be the first step on their journey to competing in stadiums for lucrative cash prizes.

“Finnish esports is growing like crazy” says Shelter Game Room CEO Tuomas Konttinen.

“What we need is a few more major scale success stories and then it’s going to be all over the place.”

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PM to Brussels for Brexit summit 

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) is joining other European Union leaders in Brussels today, to discuss the ongoing chaos around Britain’s departure from the EU. Brexit is supposed to happen just eight days from now but there’s no clear path of how, or even whether it will take place. British Prime Minister Theresa May has asked for an extension to the Brexit date but has been told that EU leaders will only give a short extension – until 23rd May or 30th June – if she can get the withdrawal agreement approved by parliament in London. That agreement had previously been voted on twice by British MPs and heavily defeated both times. So if it fails to get through parliament next week, Britain could still face a so-called ‘hard brexit’ where it leaves the EU without a deal.

Trump’s ex-UN Ambassador criticises Finnish health care 

Donald Trump’s former United Nations Ambassador has been critical of Finland’s health care system. Writing on Twitter, Nikki Haley, who quit her job at the end of last year as a possible prelude to running against Trump for the Republican Party 2020 presidential nominee, said that health care costs in America are too high, but “comparing us to Finland is ridiculous. Ask them how their health care is. You won’t like the answer”. She was messaging to Bernie Sanders who highlighted the cost of having a baby in America vs Finland. In response to the comment, Finnish UN Ambassador Kai Sauer hit back with some facts about Finnish health care, including Finland’s low cancer mortality rate, low infant mortality rate, and noted that UN researchers just declared Finland the happiest country in the world for the second time.

Finland contributes to Mozambique cyclone relief efforts

Finnish aid money is contributing to relief efforts in Mozambique, where Cyclone Idai cause widespread destruction in parts of the country last Thursday. There are 300 people confirmed dead so far. The Finnish Red Cross is also sending one worker to the area as part of international relief efforts. “In Mozambique, the authorities and relief organisations continue to investigate hurricane damage and immediate rescue work. The Embassy of Finland closely follows the developments of the situation” says Finnish Ambassador Laura Torvinen in Maputo. The EU has allocated €3.5 million to alleviate the humanitarian hardship caused by storm damage; while the United Nations Central Emergency Aid Fund has allocated $20 million. Finland contributes $8 million to this aid fund which will also help Mozambique.

Forecast: Economic growth is slowing down

A slowdown in growth in the euro zone – and globally – will impact growth in Finland as well over the next few years. That’s the new forecast from Pellervo Economic Research PTT released this morning. PTT says that growth will slow this year and next, due to weaker demand for exports and lower investment. The growth prediction for this year is 1.5% and 1.8% in 2020. However, the slowdown is expected to be temporary. PTT also says that a target of 75% employment rate in the labour market will require more structural reforms, especially for older people.

Thursday morning weather

It’s a bright and sunny start to the day across northern Lapland, with the temperature dropping down to -12C in the north west. There’s snow in parts of eastern and Central Finland as well, with temperatures just a few degrees below freezing. The sunshine continues through Jyvaskyla, Tampere, Turku, and the capital city region this morning, as well as Lappeenranta and the south east, with temperatures just above freezing at the start of Thursday.

Finnish Meteorological Institute forecast for Thursday morning 21st March 2019 / Credit: FMI
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A Finns Party candidate for parliament is trying to explain an anti-immigrant slogan emblazoned on the side of his car as part of an election campaign stunt.

MP Teuvo Hakkarainen has the phrase “immigrant invader, where do you come from? You’re going back there!” – “matu, mistä tulet? Sinne menet!” – printed in yellow letters with his name, and his election candidate number 136 on one side of his black car.

On the other side, another slogan reads “asylum tourists, every single one, get out”.

The word “matu” a slang term translating approximately as “immigrant invader”, is used by people on the right side of politics who are anti-immigrant, and by neo-Nazis as a synonym for immigrants.

Interviewed by MTV Uutiset, Hakkarainen claimed the term “matu” is actually a contraction of the words Maaseudun Tulevaisuus or ‘Rural Future’, a magazine publication.

“But it can be interpreted as immigrant invader if someone is willing to do so” Hakkarainen told the broadcaster.

Hakkarainen’s assault conviction

In 2018 Hakkarainen was convicted by a court for a drunken assault on National Coalition Party MP Veera Ruoho, which resulted in him being handed a fine of €3000, and ordered to also pay €1400 compensation.

At a Finns Party Christmas bash in December 2017, Hakkarainen accosted Ruho – who was not attending the party – grabbed her by the throat, and forcibly kissed her.

Hallarainen was found guilty of assault and sexual harassment for the attack. He says he was so drunk at the time he can’t remember it at all.

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Police say they’re investigating a possible environmental crime, after an oil leak at a prize-winning brook in Helsinki.

Since Sunday, Helsinki City Rescue Department have been undertaking operations at the Longinoja brook in Malmi, to clean up to 30 liters of fuel which leaked into the water over the weekend.

“Police suspect that fuel was loaded from a truck in the car park between Friday and Saturday afternoon from 15th to 16th March. The fuel is suspected to have ended up the ground and further through a nearby rainwater drain to Longinoja brook” says Sampsa Marttila from Helsinki Police.

“According to the information received, the fuel had been stolen from a truck in the area. At the location, a plastic hose was found that was suspected to have been used to steal diesel” he adds.

Earler this year, long term clean-up efforts to restore the brook won an environmental prize after attracting endangered species to Longinoja’s waters.

Dozens of volunteers gave up their spare time to work on revitalizing the brook over the last decade-and-a-half, turning it into a viable breeding ground for endangered sea trout.

The prize is awarded by the member organisations of the oldest global environmental organisation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN, and awarded the Longinoja the biodiversity prize for 2017-2018.

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A court in Oulu has handed down the first verdict after a string of child sex abuse allegations came to light in the northern city at the end of last year. 

Today, 44-year old Aseov Muso who is originally from Tajikistan, was found guilty of aggravated child sex abuse and aggravated rape.

Muso was sentenced to three years, eight months in prison for the crimes which took place in summer and autumn 2018. He had no prior criminal record and was also ordered to pay compensation totaling €11,000.

Oulu sex abuse allegations

In December 2018, police revealed they had arrested seven men in connection with allegations that three girls aged between 10 and 15-years old had been sexually abused or raped over a period of several months between June and October in the northern city.

At that time, senior officers called for composure and for people to respect the rule of law with regards to reacting to the case. Oulu police also issued a warning for parents to be alert for possible online grooming actions.

An eighth suspect in the initial cases fled to Germany, but was eventually caught and extradited back to Finland.

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A new study by the United Nations claims that Finland is the ‘happiest country in the world’ for the second year in a row.

The UN’s World Happiness Report puts Finland in first place, ahead of Denmark in second, and Norway in third.

Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria round out the top ten ‘happies countries in the world’.

The research, carried out for the seventh time, finds that happiness in Finland has been on a steady upward trend since 2014, with a slight dip in 2014, and this year Finland has pulled further ahead of other countries in the happiness stakes.

The research was carried out by asking people in 156 countries about social security, economic issues, and individual freedoms.

“Happiness has been changing over the past dozen years” the report finds, as researchers looked into different aspects of how technology, governance and social norms influence communities.

”This year after presenting our usual country rankings of life evaluations, and tracing the evolution since 2005 of life evaluations, positive affect, negative affect, and our six key explanatory factors, we consider more broadly some of the main forces that influence happiness by changing the ways in which communities and their members interact with each other” the report’s authors explain.

Researchers measured such areas as links between government actions and happiness; the power of social behaviour like generosity as a way to create happy communities; and also how information technology could affect happiness.

Report authors noted the close correlation between the happiest countries, and the countries with the happiest immigrants. They found it shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they live now, rather than the societies where they came from.

Finland came top of the overall list, and also at the top of the happiest immigrants index.

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New poll show only small changes in party fortunes

With less than a month to go before the general election on 14th April, the latest opinion poll from Helsingin Sanomat newspaper shows only small changes in public support for the different parties. None of the top nine parties shows their support changing, up or down, by more than half a percentage point. The Social Democrats stay on top of the pack at 21% support while the National Coalition party lose support in second place at 18.1% and the Centre Party also loses support down to 14.3% in third place. Greens are up to 14% in 4th and the Finns Party loses support at 11.1% in fifth place.

Early morning fire forces Kontula apartment evacuation

A fire in an apartment building in Kontula forced residents to evacuate in the middle of the night. The alarm was raised around 07:00 this morning at the three storey building in Tanhuankuja. When rescue crews arrived they found an apartment on the second floor on fire, and evacuated other residents. There is no word yet on any injuries caused by the blaze.

Report: Russian authorities stopped 1000 illegal border crossings

A story from Lännen Media this morning says that Russian border authorities prevented more than a thousand people from crossing illegally into Finland last year. The Finnish Border Guard apparently received information on these numbers from their Russian counterparts. Major General Pasi Kostamovaara, quoted by Lännen Media, says that this number is five times higher than in previous years. One possible explanation for such a high number of illegal crossing attempts could be the FIFA World Cup which was held in Russia last year. Visitors were able to travel to Russia without a visa, and some took the opportunity to try to come to Finland. The report says that those visitors who were stopped account for the spike in illegal crossing attempt statistics.

Finland’s drug driving eaths on the rise

The number of deaths caused by drivers who had taken drugs is on the rise. The Institute for Accident Information OTI studied all fatalities between 2013 to 2017 that were caused by driver intoxication, and according to their findings the number of deaths caused by drug drivers rose by two-in-ten compared to the previous study period 2008 to 2012. The number of drug-related accidents is one third of all fatal road crashes.

Applications open for autumn university and polytechnic places

The application process opens today for thousands of university and polytechnic places at Finnish institutions today. It’s a process held twice each year in spring and autumn and continues until 3rd April. Applicants will be notified if they were successful at the end of June, to start new courses in the autumn.

UN study: Finland is the ‘world’s happiest country’. 

A study by the United Nations out this morning claims that Finland is the ‘happiest country in the world’ for the second year in a row. The UN’s World Happiness Report puts Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria in the top ten. The research was carried out through polling which asked about social security, economic issues, and individual freedom.

Wednesday morning weather 

Today is the spring equinox, when there’s an equal amount of day and night in the northern hemisphere. The brightest sunshine is found this morning in Lapland where temperatures drop down as low as -11C in the far north west. Across the rest of the country there’s a fair amount of cloud cover but with sunshine peeking out around Tampere, Turku and the capital city region making for bright moments this morning. Temperatures range from -5C in Rovaniemi to -1C in Lahti and +1C in Hanko and Åland.

Finnish Meteorological Institute forecast for Wednesday morning 20th March 2019 / Credit: FMI
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Finland’s state alcohol monopoly Alko has announced some big falls in sales of beer and long drink.

In their new annual report, released today, Alko says long drink sales decreased by 50%, and beer by 30% in January, compared with one year before. The company attributes the fall to new alcohol laws which made it legal for supermarkets to stock drinks up to 5.5% alcohol.

This has cut into Alko’s sales, since they’re no longer the only place to buy stronger beverages – although they still have the monopoly on wines and spirits. The drop in sales wasn’t as bad as anticipated. Alko thought long drinks and beers might be down as much as 75%.

To try and keep up with changing consumer habits, Alko has reduced the size of some stores. In 2018 they opened four new stores and this year plan two openings, in Tampere and Pasila, Helsinki.

In total Alko has 360 stores and more than 70 pick-up points around the country.

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