Not Fasth Enough

This spring has been a good spring for Finland, and me, when it comes to ice hockey. Naturally, I’ve also experienced the frustration of being on the other side of the world when all the good things have happened. Last night, the Finnish ice hockey team won the IIHF World Championship for only the second time ever, after losing finals in six different championship tournaments (Olympics and World Cup included) between 1995, year of the last championship, and 2011. In late April, HIFK, the only group of burly men I’ve ever called myself a fan of, won the Finnish championship after a 12-year drought. You had to be there. I fucking wasn’t. And as an additional bonus that only I give two shits about, we will get at least one Finn as a Stanley Cup champion in June. Sounds like a moderately good hockey year for Finland. But let’s get back to the IIHF World Championship.

After a very satisfying win over the Swedes in the final, the country erupted. A score of 6-1 helped right all wrongs that our Western neighbor had inflicted upon us in the rink during the years, and people partied all over Finland until dawn. This shows how much unparalleled joy was drawn from winning, and serves as a premise to the following rant.

Äbäwäbä näin kolmelta aamuyöstä

What really grinds my gears is that some people feel an obligation to criticize the significance of the game, of the tournament, and of the victory. They somehow feel it is important to analyze ice hockey from an international perspective, and point out how this actually means nothing and everybody should calm down and go to sleep.

It’s true that ice hockey is a relatively insignificant sport internationally. Less than a dozen countries realistically compete for the championship, which, to trivialize it even further, is held every single year. In addition to this, the best players in the world have often little interest or possibility to join the tournament. The NHL playoffs are still ongoing, with arguably the best teams and players still competing in North America. Even players whose teams never made the playoff phase are either injured or find it very difficult to find motivation to play in a yearly tournament after playing a season just short of 100 games (pre-season included). Even Teemu Selänne has stated that the reasons given when opting out of national team duty are often just excuses. These are the facts. I don’t argue against facts. I argue against idiots.

Some besserwissers, often Finnish football fans, feel the need to point out how, objectively, we should not give a fuck about the IIHF World Championship. “Why do Finns get so excited about a sport that only a few countries play?” “Stop the hype, the tournament is worthless!” “There are so many sports that we neglect and instead concentrate on stuff that nobody else in the world cares about, like ice hockey, ski jumping and javelin throw!” I remember my basketball coach 15 years ago telling me that there are more registered ballers in Spain than there are hockey players in the world. He made the statement to prove a point about basketball being meaningful, whereas hockey supposedly wasn’t. I disagree.

What's not to like? © Mika Ranta / Helsingin Sanomat

Choo choo, here comes the clue train, last stop is you

Sports are not something that people can forcibly try to enjoy just because they’re internationally popular. Might as well tell a Finn not to enjoy salmiakki (or even better, Salmiakkikossu) because nobody else in the world does either. Countries and cultures have their own traditions, games they’ve played for decades or centuries and that the locals happen to be interested in, no matter how much they are bashed on the head with ridiculous slogans to the contrary.

Should all countries strive to only play and follow the internationally important activities, like football? And how do you measure importance, anyway? By prominence per country times amount of countries? By the amount of money circulating in the major leagues? By the amount of registered players worldwide? I bet cricket and ping pong would score pretty high on the latter. I haven’t really heard anyone complain how Finns don’t concentrate more on cricket.

And let’s suppose all governments made an effort to promote sports directly relative to their worldwide notoriety. Smallish, nationally and culturally relevant but internationally obscure sports (sumo anyone?) would slowly fade, and in the end we would be left with football & pals. How exactly would this achieve anything positive?

In general, I hate the widespread football vs. ice hockey mentality going on in Finland. Unlike some, I fail to see it as a zero-sum game. Why would enjoying ice hockey somehow be detrimental to football? Football is big, but we suck at it. Ice hockey is small, but we’re good at it. Personally, I like both games. Promoting football in Finland is certainly something I’d like to see increase. However, the key to that certainly is not to cry a river over everything ice hockey.

History will be made. © Yle

I know the world is global and international, but ignoring all locality in a field such as sports is beyond ludicrous. Finns are often internally accused of trying to suck up to other, larger countries and constantly wondering how others see us. Isn’t downplaying the importance of ice hockey, to us a nation, just an extension of this sycophancy? “Let’s play what everybody else plays, then people will respect us!” How about we just keep on playing a game that others don’t care about and be proud of it. Never mind the tournament, never mind the players, in 2011 our team won!

People get emotionally involved in sports even though they’re not actually responsible for any of the events that unfold on the field. The first purpose when following sports is to draw enjoyment from something that other people achieve. Rational thinking is thrown out of the window anyway. Why should we, as a nation, feel guilty about getting excited over a world fucking championship? Oh, wrong sport. And wrong championship. And too excited. Who the fuck decides these things? Despite all its shortcomings as a sports event, winning the IIHF World Championship Tournament is not entirely without merit, and even if it were, the only thing that matters is that people care about it. Watching sports, getting excited by sports and celebrating when your team wins is not a novel concept. If you can’t accept that, just pull a hood over your head and flee to the mountains.


The author is a dead sea monkey and ice hockey enthusiast

  1. Must resist urge to reply… Gnnnnaaaahhhhhh.

    Can’t help it.

    Firstly, In Sweden it works. The co-living of ice hockey and football, that is. In Finland, it already is a lot harder, largely thanks to the fact that the Finnish see football as ‘potkupallo’ – something not even close to the real football played by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney. Well, obviously it isn’t as glamorous but it still is the same sport. Now who could teach that to the a standard Finn?

    I did enjoy some of your argumentation, but there was a lot of exaggeration which makes this juxtaposition seem harsher than it is. I don’t think one “should not give a fuck” about the competition or the title in the first place. I would love to see some evidence every once in a while that people truly do understand the undeniable facts you listed. There is only a handful of noteworthy teams, none of them have all of their most important players (or even most of them) in their rosters and the tournament is both too long and played too often.

    And the group idiocy which thrives under these circumstances is the icing of this cake. The victory only gives a justification to a few nights of anarchy, where anyone is allowed to urinate in fountains and dance on bus stops butt naked. A second Wappu or a pre-Juhannus, either way you like. On a normal day it would be called being an ass. And there is naturally a huge amount of gloryhunters who either didn’t see the first games or think that Mikael Granlund actually is the besst ice hockey player of this damned country. No, sir, even I know he isn’t. People who I thought don’t even follow sports are going to rally to Helsinki city centre. To really see a glimpse of the victorious heroes or just to enjoy the mass psychosis?

    And did I forget to mention the fact that I don’t like the sport. I really don’t. Most notably, I’ve never really understood the story about fighting in ice hockey. I know it isn’t a big beef in the World Champs, but it does (quite justifiably, I think) hinder my attempts to like the sport altogether. And please, don’t use the “filming in football” -argument as a retort. The difference is that filming is largely condemned by the fans and the governing associations, while there is actually a site called, which has a plethora of brawl statistics… cause… it’s cool…?

    And I also see no sense in the typical AD/HD argument that while football only offers a pair of goals per match on average, you see plenty of them during a normal hockey match. Oh please, if I would love to see a goals galore, I would be a floorball or handball afacionado. But I’m not.

    I’m just a guy who hates the fact that a sport I less care of is getting too much attention, and most likely, at the expense of a sport I care a lot more of. Why can’t ice hockey be like other random national fetishes like eukonkanto, saappaanheitto or salmiakki(kossu)? Something that we are kinda proud of and something we think is funny enough to be shown to foreigners but definitely not something that we use a thunderous war cry against the world, even if the world doesn’t care. Ice hockey has just out of bounds on so many levels.

    As one football fan said: “It is a sad day, because it is on days like this that you realize, that the battle between football and ice hockey is pointless, since it was actually lost a long time ago. Even people who usually don’t express any feelings whatsoever, were crying and hugging each other as happily as one ever can. Beer flowed, fireworks thundered in the streets and everyone were part of the same family. It was worthless to try to think otherwise, because nobody would care. This is Finland’s national sport and it obviously cannot be changed. Ice hockey arenas are built from here to eternity, but football arenas are nowhere to be seen. Let those be glad who have a reason to be. I’m not one of them.”

    Disclaimer: There certainly are errors and typos in my text, sorry.

    • Bah, this is pointless so we may as well continue this somewhere else. I’d need to make a new post to counter all your arguments again. Anyway, my main point, presented in the last sentence, still stands. Let those who enjoy the game celebrate. You won’t dull my triumph!

  2. De-lurking after a long silent quiet observer status. I am a strongly Finnophile Romanian in Tokyo and i have to say, the game was awesome and that’s that. And the commentator is even greater: “Voi äiti, sentään, kaveri tulee päälle, sitten tulee Kovarov, sitten tulee Aaltonen ja sitten tulee PAM! ja sitten tulee 3-1 Suomelle! Ojojojoi!”

    Great entertainment.

    • Indeed it was great entertainment.

      Strongly Finnophile Romanian in Tokyo sounds like possibly the rarest breed of people on earth. I’d be very interested in knowing how one can get to the point where he listens to Mertaranta in Japan. I know I do as well. But then again I’ve been taking classes.

      • Facebook and Youtube work wonders!

        I also watched the Eurovisut, because i am just that trashy!

        Is there a place in Tokyo where Finns congregate? I sorta miss my saunaillat…

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