Originally started as observations about various curiosities about living in Finland in comparison to the author's native Canada (northern Ontario), Life in Finland touches on the humourous, the political, the maddening, the strange and so on. He hopes to bring you interesting tidbits on life in Finland.
Tomorrow is the annual sports gala (Urheilugaala) in Finland, in which the best of Finland’s athletes in more than 70 sports are honoured in Helsinki. The best athletes in each category are chosen by the Finnish Sports Writers Association (Urheilutoimittajain liitto). They have named every athlete of the year in this country since 1947. Here are the winners (by sport) for 2018, more than 20 women were chosen as the best in their sport – and that is good to see.
Flashback to the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Finland won six medals (one gold, one silver, four bronze) – all of them won by women, except for Iivo Niskanen, who won gold in the men’s 50km.
Hands down my choice for Athlete of the Year is Krista Pärmäkoski. I have the feeling, however, she will be usurped by the likes of Lauri Markkanen (basketball) or Iivo Niskanen (cross-country skiing). She won three medals in Pyeongchang: a silver in the women’s 30km classic, bronze in the 15km skiathon and bronze in the 10km freestyle.
And to boot – she just finished third in the recent Tour de Ski.
While I would like to the women’s national hockey team named as Team of the Year (they won bronze in Pyeongchang), I am afraid that won’t be the case. Women’s hockey in this country has seen some big breakthroughs in the past year and will see more this coming year… It is just not getting the attention it deserves.
I will return to this if I feel like I need to rant about it. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.
It has been awhile. I think one of my resolutions for 2019 is to write more often… Like I have said before, there is lots to talk about, I just haven’t gotten around to getting it put “on paper.”
I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Stay safe, don’t drink and drive and arrive alive!
I want to share this picture with you. I took this last night with the “super night” setting on my Huawei phone. It takes about 30 seconds to get the right exposure. I was pretty pleased with the result.
Finland is currently covered in snow, a white Christmas, the first one in a long time for the entire country!
Flashback to earlier this year and I somehow stumbled into the world of sledge hockey, aka. these days as Para Ice Hockey. Jarno Silvonen (from Turku) has been involved in the sport for a long time as a coach and it is through him I was introduced to the sport. He has taken on the Finnish national junior team (to my understanding) and is working on Finland’s next generation of winter Para athletes.
* I will refer to sledge hockey most of the time in this entry, but sledge hockey = Para Ice Hockey
But you know me, I am all about women in sport, so I was super pumped when I was invited to take part in the inaugural Women’s Para Ice Hockey World Championships held in Ostrava (CZE) from May 1-6.
There were five of us from Finland, myself, Jarno Silvonen and our athletes Annika, Amanda and Sinianne. Annika is a former national level ringette (and hockey, I think) player. She has suffered some bad knee injuries that left her unable to play at a higher level, so she took up sledge hockey about five years ago. As an otherwise able-bodied athlete, she would never classify under the current Paralympic standards for Para Ice Hockey. Amanda is a Para Athletics athlete, former world record holder and has won many medals on the world championship stage in her class (T54). She also took up Para Ice Hockey a couple of years ago, and while she’s tiny, she is mighty! Sinianne took up Para Ice Hockey earlier this year and is very new to the game. I think the week in Ostrava was the best for her, she (and I) learned a ton! We found that if Sinianne were to go through the classification process, she would indeed classify for Para Ice Hockey.
I went to Ostrava not knowing what to expect or who I would meet. Let’s just say this, I made a lot of new friends and learned so much my head was spinning! I brought my gear with me, so I was kitted up to coach on the ice. There were nearly 100 women there to play sledge hockey, it was great!
This tournament was made possible by a generous donation from the Agitos Foundation, which is an arm of the Paralympic movement. We had ice time for five days – and that was five days of practices and games. Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was working with the goalies a lot and by the end of the week I was helping plan practices with the elite coaches, and I was even reffing some games! One of the best practices was when the Canadian coaches came out on the ice to teach how to check properly. Now on the men’s side I have seen some big hits, so watching the women from the development side of the sport was absolutely hilarious! The Great Britain crew were flattening each other and there were plenty of laughs that day. It was great to watch players improve over the course of the week in how they moved, righted themselves on their sledges, and also in shooting and goaltending.
Team Canada and Team USA were the only two teams with full rosters on the elite side. A mix of players from around Europe made up Team Europe, which played on the elite side as well. These three teams played a round robin to determine who would play in the final. Canada and the US are tightly matched on the skill level and it’s fair to say when they meet, the game can go either way. Team Europe still has a little ways to go to on par with Canada and the US, but it was a great chance for the players to play together. The US won gold in a tight 1-0 win over Canada in the final, not the way I wanted it to go, but hey – that’s hockey.
There were also athletes from Great Britain (GB), Scotland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Australia, Croatia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and France. Unfortunately there were no teams from Asia this time around. These countries made up the “Development division” of the tournament. The rules were pretty relaxed, as teams were allowed to borrow players from other teams to fill their roster, for example Team Finland-Sweden didn’t have a goalie. Team Finland-Sweden combined to win gold over Norway and GB1 and GB2 fought it out for bronze. We didn’t do it alone – we borrowed a lot of players to make that win possible! At the end of the day it was super fun to win, what a great feeling!
It was nice to see that there were a lot of female coaches; Canada, the US and Europe all had female head coaches – and in the world of Paralympic sport, that seems to be a rarity. I also met the head coach of the Czech men’s Para Ice Hockey team and a member of the Norwegian men’s national team – great guys! The UK had a fabulous crew and I spent a lot time hanging around with them during the day.
Going forward from that tournament meant coming down from a big high. Developing the sport of sledge hockey for women in Finland is going to take some work. The game cannot develop further on the (sanctioned) Paralympic level until there are six nations able to field full teams for the Paralympics. Women’s sledge hockey will not be on the 2022 Paralympic schedule, so the next goal is 2026. So, in Finland we have a lot of work to do.
On the men’s side, Team Finland will be the host of the upcoming C-Division championships to be held in Vierumäki in early November. I actually got a chance to join one of their practices just last week, so it was good to see them ahead of the tournament. The guys were in Sweden last weekend for a tournament and some practice games against the Swedish national team. While they had a tough go and lost their games, it was a good tune-up for them ahead of Vierumäki. See more here.
Late last year and earlier this year I ranted about how poorly Finnish women are covered in the sports media. I made a New Year’s resolution to go and see Finland’s elite women in action – and I did – until the summer came and then I was in Canada for a month… Now that most winter and indoor sports are on the go again, I can continue to fulfill this resolution, but I have June, July and August to make up for! September’s order was filled by watching the best ringette players in the country in early September and again just this past weekend.
Now that the Little Miss is back in action at the rink, it is time to remind all of these girls taking part in sport to find themselves a female hero to look up to. In Finland there is no shortage of them, we just need to make them more visible!
A couple weeks ago Hayley Wickenheiser was immortalized in Lego format in our household. We still have to find the hockey stick though. I am really glad that the Little Miss recognizes this – the need to have someone to look up to…
The head coach of her ringette team plays at the national level, and she is definitely a role model for all of the girls who play ringette in Espoo. Ira Merivaara is small, but mighty – and proof that you do not need to be big to be good at a sport where height can be an advantage. (Below is the post game pic from the EKS home opener against Tuusula last weekend. EKS won handily 8-2.)
The discussion about women in sport in this country is still centring on poor coverage and low attendance at women’s sporting events. I have seen it on social media channels. Just GO and watch a game!
An example: you can get a great value for your money by getting a season pass to see the Espoo Blues Naiset hockey team in action for just EUR 50. I promise you will be seeing the best of the best in this country and it’s all driving forward to meet one goal. The next big thing on the women’s sport calendar in this country (and please correct me if I am wrong) are the Women’s World Hockey Championships to be held in Espoo in April 2019.
As for media, I have challenged the publisher of ELMO-lehti to put Riikka Välilä (or any of the current members of the Finnish women’s national hockey team) on the cover, but I am still waiting.
On the coaching front
The head coach of the Finnish Women’s Rugby Sevens got a hold of me earlier this year and we were supposed to meet and discuss the team, but it didn’t materialize. Coach Bam, if you’re reading this – we still need to talk!
The next bit I need to tell you about is a big Throwback Thursday moment from earlier this year, also involving women in sport. I might not necessarily put it out on a Thursday though.
So it has been nearly three weeks since I ended my 10 000 Butts challenge. It seems like such a long time ago already.
In the end I collected 11 290 butts (give or take a few) and plenty of garbage too. I saved them all in a big bucket (except some that I pitched in the garbage once I hit 10 000) and some guys from the City of Espoo came to pick them up a few days later. (*Thanks to the City of Espoo for being so supportive!)
I really did think it would be possible to find 10 000 butts in my own neighbourhood, but that proved to be impossible. So in the end, I ventured further afield than I normally would to look for butts to pick up. Save for a few times when the Mr. or my mini-me was along with me walking the dog, I only did this when I walked my dog. Any bigger ventures and clean-ups would have to be done without him in tow.
I also want to add here that I really left out some big elephants in the room during my challenge. Where can we find large concentrations of discarded butts? Among them: parking lots, bus stops, traffic lights and in front of buildings where people congregate to smoke.
I never walked to the front side of the Omnia campus in Muurala, where thousands of cigarette butts can be found on the grounds. At the Omnia campus near Espoon Keskus, there were also plenty of butts to be found. I intend to address this and ask why they do not provide receptacles for staff and students to dump their butts into. There are also some very busy bus stops with cigarette butts littered all over the place. It would be nice to see more receptacles put in place for collecting them, but this is something that people have to ask for. I pitched one idea to an environmental designer who works for the City of Espoo, but I have to follow-up on that.
I kept people up to date on the 10 000 Butts Finland page that I set up on Facebook. I was really happy for the support people provided and was heartened to see that there are lots of other people around Finland trying to make a difference. Thanks so much for your support!
I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to engage any smokers while this challenge was on the go. A call out to friends on my social media networks garnered nothing. Are they afraid to admit they might be one of these butt tossers? Well, as I mentioned before – this challenge was not about vilifying smokers, but the litter they leave behind. It’s very easy for all of us to just put garbage where it belongs, in the garbage – not in the environment.
Like I said before, the work doesn’t end here. I will keep on picking up butts, hoping that I can organize something a little bigger when it fits my calendar.
So in my previous blog entry I told you about a challenge I gave myself to try and prove that cigarette waste is a problem. This month I am attempting to pick up 10 000 discarded cigarette butts in my neighbourhood. Up to this point in time I thought it would be easy to find 10 000 – it hasn’t been! I have cleaned up so many of them that 5 000 would have been a more realistic figure for my own neighbourhood. I have had to expand my range a little and take my dog to places I don’t usually take him. Well, I guess that’s okay, because it means less butts in the environment. I am documenting my challenge on Facebook, take a look if you have an account.
Not long after I got started I was contacted by Svenka YLE, the Swedish language arm of the national broadcaster YLE. I was interviewed by Charlotte Lindberg and a piece went up on the net a day later. The Finnish language arm got a hold of that story and up to this point (as I publish this) it has been shared more than 5 200 times on Facebook. I was also contacted by MTV, the big commercial broadcaster in Finland and they also published a great article. I’d like to thank these media outlets for taking the time to find out more about my motivations and challenge.
So far it looks like this (this is from a few days ago):
The 10 000 butt challenge will end on August 31, but it doesn’t mean then end of my efforts to highlight cigarette waste and pollution of the environment. My message is this: we can all do better, one way is not to litter in the first place. With the media highlighting the messy consequences of plastics in our environment, I am just hoping to help people think that they too can make a difference. There are plenty of people out there across this great country doing good things every day to clean up the environment.
I have my detractors. Someone has called my 10 000 butt challenge a stunt. Well sure, it is, but if it motivates people to think about the issue and pick up a few butts, then I have done something right. Don’t get me wrong, 10 000 is a lot – and I still have 10 days left to get to 10 000! Already people have said they will pick up butts when they walk their dogs or that 1 000 is a much more attainable goal. It sure is, but it’s a great start!
Better yet, the Roska Päivässä liike has a great motto: One a day. Pick up one piece of litter a day, and that’s an even better start.
School will end soon and the long summer holiday will begin.
Kids in Finland currently attend school between August and May. I say the school year should be from the beginning of September until Midsummer.
Why change? The motivation (on my part) is purely weather-related. The beginning of June can be quite unpredictable as far as the weather goes – and even be quite cold. August, however, is a different story – that is when we experience the best of the summer weather. It is completely unfair to be sending kids to school when it is +30C and nice outside.
I’m not joking.
Helsingin Sanomat interviewed one school principal in Kauniainen in early February, who agreed that the school year should be shifted by two weeks.
There was even a petition for it. Unfortunately it closed recently and did not garner near enough signatures to be examined by the government. It has even been suggested that by starting later, the health of kids, parents and families could be affected positively as they would have the chance to enjoy more time outdoors before the school year begins, hence reducing the need for families to escape “somewhere warm” when it is dark, raining and downright nasty in November and December.
Changing the school year could probably boost the productivity of the Finnish workforce. As it is now May, people are already thinking of the end of school and Midsummer, and it turns everyone off from starting important work before the summer holidays start. On top of that, Finland practically shuts down in July while the rest of Europe is at work. Then when the rest of Europe is on holidays in August, the Finnish workforce languishes in wait for everyone to get back to work. Then the real work can begin – and the kids have already been in school for several weeks by that time.
The best berry and mushroom picking time is at the end of August, so why not allow families to be on holidays at that time of the year in order to take advantage of the best picking conditions…?
To change the school year schedule means that Parliament has to act on it, but given how they have been sitting on their hands lately with other issues, a change to the timing of the school year is unlikely to ever happen.