National treasures

7 April 2011 | This 'n' that

The name of the game: ice hockey. Photo: Jaakko Oksa

In Japan, artists or craftsmen of the highest quality may be honoured with the title ‘Living National Treasure’. In Finland, it seems only ice hockey players are eligible for that title, if you ask the man on the street, as ice hockey seems to be Finland’s ‘national’ sport.

(For example another ice team sport, synchronised skating, doesn’t compete in the same national treasure series, despite the fact that the Finnish team won the gold – again – in the World Championships in April. [Finland has won gold six times, Sweden five.] No national flag-waving resulted. But of course they are just women, who don’t win sports wars against other nations.)

On Sunday, 15 May, a dream came true at last, as Finland won the gold medal at the Ice Hockey World Tournament. And what’s more, it was Sweden – neighbour and old colonial overlord – they beat (6–1).

As the victorious team, escorted by a Hornet fighter from the Finnish air force, returned from Bratislava to Helsinki on Monday night, some 100,000 people crowded the capital’s Market Square to celebrate. The team and a selection of pop musicians climbed up on a stage to start the party – and President Tarja Halonen also popped in, from her presidential palace by the Square, to congratulate.

When’s the last time when 100,000 Finns gathered anywhere? Perhaps in 1995, when Finland first won the same title? See the series of photographs on the Internet pages of the Swedish paper Aftonbladet, particularly a shot of Helsinki harbour taken with a fish-eye lens.

All together now! Photo: Jaakko Oksa

Sweden has been a much more successful hockey country than Finland, but it’s clearly tough to be a good loser. As the rivalry – in sports in particular – between Sweden and Finland is traditionally a larger-than-life issue, the Swedish newspapers and their readers displayed a highly amusing spectrum of opinions. ‘Kul att dom får fira något. Dom bor ju trots allt i Finland’ (‘Great that they have something to celebrate. After all, they live in Finland’), said one reader sourly.

And celebrate they did. One of the coaches stumbled and fell on his face on the red carpet on landing in Helsinki, and before you could say oops, he ended up on the YouTube accompanied by extracts from the final match television coverage by the celebrity sports commentator Antero Mertaranta.

Sportsmen and -women are supposed to be positive role models for young people, but as  some of the team members clearly seemed to enjoy something stronger than sports drinks on the Market Square, they have been reproached for this behaviour by many people – spoilsports?

The coach of the Finnish national team, Jukka Jalonen, said in an interview that he could not condemn the use of alcohol in celebrating a ‘rare achievement’ like this, as ‘children and young people surely understand that adults may sometimes get drunk. Many of them have seen their parents sloshed.’

Well, if we assume it’s OK to be drunk in front of your children, it is no wonder that younger and younger children start drinking – which, however, is not considered OK, not by anyone. Can someone explain this?


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