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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.

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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.

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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] gmail.com

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

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