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Finland, what is going on here?

September 25, 2015

Racism is rearing its big, fat, ugly head in Finland…

This will be brief.

WTF is going on in Finland? The headlines in the media over the last few days are staggering.

A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the door of a refugee centre in Kouvola (Finland Today)

Ku Klux Klan-clad protester in Lahti anti-asylum seeker demonstration (YLE News)

Anti-immigration protesters urged to stop wearing hockey shirts (YLE News)

“Close the borders!” This is the message of anti-immigrant demonstrations today (Finland Today)

I’ll ask the ever rhetorical question(s): What on earth has happened to kindness and human decency for those who need help? Why is the media giving press to the vocal racist minorities whose photos will no doubt be splashed across other media outlets around the world?

Then the finger wagging will begin, as will the vehement defence that, “No, not all Finns are like this.” We’re not…

I realize we’re experiencing difficult times, but come on! Throwing Molotov cocktails to express your displeasure is nothing but destructive.

The Finland I moved to in the late 1990s was not like this – and man, it’s getting ugly out there.

Hey coach!

September 24, 2015

I used to coach girls wrestling in Ontario before I moved to Finland.

I’ve been here nearly 17 years and I have finally taken another step – I am enrolled in Level 1 coaching training with the Finnish Ringette Association. Now that it looks like the Little Miss is going to stick with the sport for awhile, I will follow along. Right now, I have the great advantage of heading out on the ice with her and her teammates at practice – and while I butcher the Finnish language very well, the kids can handle that. :) (I am also glad they call me by name and not “Coach.”)

The level one coaching training has been so popular over the last few years that it has been hard to get a place with the training group.

So I was pretty happy when the head of ringette coaching in Espoo got me into the course. Matti Virtanen has been with the Finnish Rinegtte Association for a long time. He has been acting as the Coaching and Education Director since 1998 and is leading us through the Level 1 course. It was very nice to put a face to a name after all this time.

The training took place out at Kisakallio Sports Institute out in Lohja. Our course fees also include food and lodging, and I can say this: Kisakallio does its best to make sure you’ve been fed! Anyways, we had a few hours of exercises on Friday night and Saturday morning and then we attended the first ever Finnish Ringette Coaches seminar, which drew over 35 participants from the national team level all the way down to coaches of the youngest players. We were privileged to meet Sini Forsblom of the International Ringette Federation, Lauri Karhunen from Jokerit and Marja Miettinen, one of Finland’s most prolific coaches in basketball.



The thing that pleased me most about this weekend was that I managed with the Finnish. I did have some help from a coach from Nurmijärvi when I got stuck, but I did it – listened, commented and presented in Finnish. The remaining two modules of this coaching training will be held in October and December. I’m looking forward to it!

And on the coaching front here in Espoo, the head of all ringette coaches in Espoo is spurring the rest of us on with various ideas on how to promote the sport and getting the coaching crew to work together. We’re being challenged to do various things – like inviting other coaches to our practices and writing up tournament and game reports (which I just finished doing). Every team is supposed to go and watch a couple of National league games this season, and in fact there is one this Saturday in Espoo. The World Ringette Championships are coming up and we’ll be involved on that front as well. The future of ringette is good in Espoo, we just need to get the game out there.


Nation-wide general strike today

September 18, 2015

The governing coalition is getting an earful from the populace today. Today represents one of the largest general strikes Finland has seen since the 1980s. Virtually all services are affected, namely all public transit, which has forced people to make other arrangements for work. I rode my bike to work today – and with a storm set to blow through later on, I just hope I don’t get blown off the road on my way back home.

The Helsinki Times has made a pretty comprehensive list of what is affected today. See it here.

On that note the media is making a circus out of it, and it’s just – weird – live streaming of protests? Why?

Fortunately many of my co-workers have not been affected by today’s action and a lot of us can either work from home or were able to find other ways to get to work.

I was in Canada when a lot of the news was published about the plans the government had, so I am not quite up to speed on what the proposals and what they mean for my family. In a nutshell, this is what is: Many workers in the service industry are protesting because of proposed cuts to wages and time off. People who work on Sundays currently receive double pay. With the government set to scrap that altogether, it affects a lot people in essential services like law enforcement, nursing and firefighting. These people are already paid peanuts in this country and their work is far more valuable than their current salaries dictate. There is also a plan to schedule two national holidays on weekends and cancel the first day of sick leave pay and the following days at 80 percent pay. (That is a stupid idea – do you know how many people are going to go to work sick? I will!) The Finance Minister, Alexander Stubb has said that proposed changes in the labour market will stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs. I predict right now that NO jobs will be created as a result of the proposals that are being tabled. With big pay cuts and cuts to benefits people will lose purchasing power, so where will those jobs come from then?

I think the government should take a much better measure of what the working people of this country are willing to do in order to avoid cuts that will make our lives and society a much uglier place to live in. Start listening to the people instead of being a bunch of bullies. I also really pissed off at the glaring absence of any women involved in these labour agreement negotiations. The proposed cuts and changes will definitely affect the lives of women in this country. It really feels like Finland is being run by the Old Boys Club.

A couple of things I’d like to see (very broad suggestions):

  • A junk food tax (A broad-reaching idea, but even a few cents added to the price of chips, pop, energy drinks, candy, ice cream and the like would add a lot of money to the coffers.)
  • An increase in the prices on alcohol and tobacco products. Again, a few cents increase on this product group will bring in revenue.
  • The child benefit from KELA is about EUR 95 per month and it was reduced some time ago. I am willing to take a smaller payment if it helps save money. Cutting it completely, however, would not be useful.
  • Finland imports a lot of temporary foreign labour every year to work on farms and pick berries and mushrooms. One thing I would really like to see is the red tape reduced for refugee claimants who are not allowed to work while waiting for their decisions to come down. At least that is my understanding.) Instead of importing foreign labour, allow these people to work on farms, etc. while they wait. At least they then get a head start on integrating, learning the language and the money they earn will likely stay in Finland as they consume products and services here.
  • The City of Espoo has suggested that people volunteer to take care of parks and public spaces. In fact I have done just that for a park area near my home, because park maintenance services are one of the first things to be cut. Why don’t more people take on the task of cleaning things up and maintaining properties? I did suggest that in an earlier entry, but maybe this is something that needs to be tabled.
  • Find a way to keep healthcare costs down. First and foremost we should take better care of ourselves and adopt a preventative healthcare strategy. Keeping people healthy and active from day one will reduce costs in the future.
  • People in Finland have to stop expecting to be taken care of by the government. It is clear that this cannot continue. We also need to start thinking like a community rather than individuals. We need to work together to get things done, so let’s do that!
  • Stop giving subsidies to people who can damn well afford to take care of their own properties with their own money. (Björn Wahlroos is apparently one of the largest recipients of Finnish farming subsidies from the government and the guy is a friggin’ millionaire.)

The fact is, we as workers are pretty lucky in Finland: several weeks of holidays a year, (if available) workplace benefits (i.e. health care, access to specialists without having to wait) and holiday pay. With the government set to make changes unilaterally, we all have to be willing to give up something, although I don’t agree with the way things are being bullied through. In the words of the Prime Minister, and I do agree with him on this: (When EU countries were giving Greece advice.) “It’s now time for us to put the advice to use. We can’t end up in a situation where others are making the decisions.”

Obscure sports in Finland

September 2, 2015

The annual Ball Sports Expo held in Helsinki every March showcases some of the more obscure sports played in Finland: cricket, lacrosse, baseball, and a host of others. It also features KIN-BALL, which is promoted by the company the Mr. and I run – OP-Sport Finland. We have taken part in the Ball Sports Expo for the last three years. This year we had help from the non-profit organization PeliTogether ry.

My education is in Outdoor Recreation (Parks and Tourism) and Physical and Health Education (Health Promotion), so the Ball Sports Expo is right up my alley.

This entry is not a Life in Finland moment per se (but it could be in the future). I’d love to have a translation of this entry in French and Finnish, so if you feel up to the task and would like to help, drop me a line.

OP-Sport Finland was established in 2009. We import and sell OMNIKIN sports equipment, namely KIN-BALL Sport equipment and oversized sports balls. While the take-off of this business was slow, virtually all of our marketing has been done by word-of-mouth and social media. It has taken some time, but now the word is getting out about KIN-BALL. I thank all of the physical education teachers in Finland who have made the time in their busy schedules to find out more.

When we started this business I was sure we would have lots of private customers buying oversized sports balls for their kids. I felt a little disheartened that things didn’t pick up as quickly as I expected. A business counsellor told the Mr. that we would not make money doing it. That isn’t the point of OP-Sport; the point is to get and keep kids (and adults) active with a sport that is fun and inclusive. We have the equipment to help fulfill that goal.

There are huge concerns in Finland with up to 80 percent of Finnish children not getting the recommended 1-2 hours of physical activity per day. We have something that could be part of the solution!

The problem in Finland has been getting the really big sports organizations like Valo (the parent organization of ALL sports associations in Finland and the Finnish Olympic and Paralympic Committees), Nuori Suomi, Your Move, Liikuva Koulu, WAU, the Finnish Association of Sport Institutes and others to really take notice. It’s like standing outside of a huge castle wall and jumping up and down, “Notice us, notice us!” We wanted to take part in an event called Your Move a few years ago because it was a fantastic opportunity for us, a booth space cost EUR 12,000. The cost of promotion is very high.

The bureaucracy and red tape can be a real barrier. A few years ago I had what I felt like was a really hostile encounter with a lawyer from SLU (now part of Valo) via e-mail. In asking how to get a sport association started, he was blunt and not at all helpful or supportive. We weren’t asking for money, merely how to get off the ground.

We have had some breakthroughs and good exposure through the annual Ball Sports Expo (part of the GoExpo) and with the annual Sonera Family Day at the Sonera Stadium in Helsinki (2014 and 2015). We have held sessions of KIN-BALL training for the Finnish army. YLE Regional News from Eastern Finland featured a story about KIN-BALL and it went crazy on social media, unfortunately there was no mention of where people could find KIN-BALL equipment and no one from YLE contacted us.

Who would I love to get on board? As far as our equipment goes, I’d love to pin down physiotherapists, adapted sport specialists (although we have had contact with the Disabled Sport Association in Finland and the Finnish Paralympic Committee), more parents’ groups and schools. As far as catching the eye of sports groups and organizations? Valo, most definitely.


My question is: Why is it so hard to convince people in Finland that KIN-BALL is a great sport and a great game? KIN-BALL does not require huge amounts of investment. The only thing you need is the space, enough enthusiastic people to officiate and play and the equipment to get started. Learn the game and it takes care of itself. Europe currently is the solid bastion of the sport, so the competition is not far away. Try it once and you’ll love it.


The Mr. and I and a friend of ours were the lone Finnish participants in the European KIN-BALL Championships last fall in the Czech Republic. We played on the club side and finished 8th. Not bad for a bunch first-timers playing against some of the best KIN-BALL players in Europe.

The Mr. was Finland’s LONE PARTICIPANT at the KIN-BALL Sport World Cup that just concluded in Madrid, Spain on August 22. His team (made up of people from six different countries) WON the Amateur team division.

World championships in the KIN-BALL Amateur team category

World championships in the KIN-BALL Amateur team category

So, I’ll throw down the gauntlet: Finns always want to be the best at new and crazy sports. Here’s your chance, don’t prove me wrong Finland! If a group of eager guys from Slovakia can put together a national team in just six months and compete at the European and world level, Finland can certainly do the same. Our next challenge is the KIN-BALL World Club Championships to be held in the Czech Republic in the fall of 2016.

Want to know more? Contact us! opsport2009 [at]

OP-Sport Finland is on Facebook
KIN-BALL Finland is on Facebook and Twitter (@KinBallFinland)

Cycling – sometimes at your own risk

August 14, 2015

On the afternoon of August 12 in Helsinki a cyclist and a motorist apparently exchanged words and insults and when all was said and done, the cyclist was dead.

I heard about this story from the Mr. yesterday and I was shocked when he told me that the cyclist had been intentionally run down. The driver of the car was apparently so angry that witnesses stated he intentionally hit the cyclist, who suffered serious head injuries. He later died of his injuries in hospital. The driver fled the scene, but was arrested by police. He now faces charges of serious traffic offences and aggravated manslaughter. (I personally hope he never has the privilege of driving ever again.) The police have indicated that an incident such as this is very rare in Finland and remain tight-lipped about the circumstances of the incident.

A large group of cyclists held a “ghost bike” memorial for the cyclist yesterday in Helsinki.


Photo by Patrick Wikblad.

The Mr. took the opportunity to remind me to keep a grip on my nerves when riding = don’t flip the bird (aka – showing the middle finger) while riding. I told him that in fact I would never do that, but I do yell when when I get really displeased with a motorist.

Just the other day I was on my bike waiting to cross the road where there was a double-lane for oncoming traffic. Finnish driving law stipulates that if a driver in one lane stops for a pedestrian, drivers in the neighbouring lane must also stop. The driver in the right lane stopped – I waited – because three more cars blew by him (!!!)… When the fourth driver stopped, she basically slammed on her brakes. I waved to the driver who had first stopped for me and proceeded. Honest and true, the only person you can trust is yourself.

I find that cyclists overall are getting a little better on the roads, more riders are signalling to other riders what they’re doing (i.e turning) and thank drivers who stop for them with a wave. The drivers wave back. :)

There are still some rude folks out there, however. Some cyclist barked at the Little Miss to get out of the way a few weeks ago… <sigh>

The actions of the motorist in Helsinki on August 12 resulted in the needless death of another person – and for what? If you find yourself infuriated by a cyclist or motorist or a pedestrian – breathe and count to 10!

Just ride safe, be aware and give young kids a break – it takes time for them to learn!

On Sunday, August 16, there will be a ride to raise awareness of road rage and protest against it.

RIP to the cyclist who needlessly lost his life in Helsinki. He was someones’ friend and family member.

The recent tourist, part II

August 5, 2015

Back in July we took a holiday in the southwest archipelago in here Finland. This was a part of our “discover” series, that when we are in Finland in the summer, we go somewhere we have never been before. So, we were in Iniö. We stayed in a cabin on the island of Jumo for a week and was lucky enough to have found it through the wildly popular Airbnb.

In fact Helsinki Times featured an article about the Iniö region earlier this year, have a read.

The visitor harbour at Iniö was completely redone and opened in 2013 with the assistance of the EU. (And what timing, the Mr. subscribes to Vene Lehti, the magazine for boaters and there was a feature article about Iniö!)

We keep an old version of Lonely Planet Finland in our car (the very guide that was my survival package when I came here the first time in 1997) and it described Iniö as such, “The isolated island world of Iniö, a municipality of 250 inhabitants, offers some of the most desolate archipelago scenery. At Norrby, the main settlement on the main island, you’ll find a stone church from 1801. You can overnight in a guesthouse at the harbour.

Needless to say that description is very inaccurate today – isolation and quiet is what we wanted on this holiday and we got it. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in and around Iniö. Finland’s best pizza is found at Leonella’s Cafe in Iniö – I absolutely guarantee it! :) We also explored the islands of Jumo, Iniö (did a little hike) and Keistiö. When we left to head home, it was the Mr.’s idea to complete the Archipelogo Road, since we were already on it. Travelling here means being attentive to the ferry schedules and planning, especially if you’re on a tight schedule! See more on the FinFerries web site.

The Archipelago Road, which is about 250km in total, is wildly popular with tourists (cyclists, motorcyclists, carvaners and drivers alike), so be prepared for line-ups especially if you enter the archipelago from the Parainen end. We decided to have a Saturday to Saturday trip knowing full well it would be an absolute zoo on a Sunday. When we got off the boat in Korppo there was a crush of vehicles waiting to get on boats going to both Ahvenanmaa and to Houtskari. I am so glad we got off the ferry before the bus did because we would have been stuck behind it.

The Archipelago Road is a good day trip, but if you really want to enjoy it, take your time!

In any case, the pictures speak more than words do, so enjoy!

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P.S. Janne Gröning takes fantastic pictures, check out his work.

Picture of the day

August 3, 2015

I went strawberry picking last week, and while the berries were kinda bad (moldy and raw berries on the same plants – amazing) – the weather was nice and I snapped this pic on my way out of the fields.



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