If there is a game that is played by people from diverse backgrounds, that game is basketball. When I moved to the United States as a child, basketball was my door to new friends and acceptance.
Basketball was a way of life in Hollywood, California, for many young people like me.
In Finland it is a mixed story if you are a referee. There are very good referees who understand that prejudice is pernicious, while others still don’t have a clue.
I know from experience that if you complain about discrimination to the Finnish Basketball Association, you won’t be taken seriously. In my case, you’ll end up getting a scornful look suggesting that you are using “the racism card.”
I have refed for close to ten years all types of games not only in Finland but in in Madrid, Spain, where I lived and worked for about a year.
Discrimination is difficult to measure in sports but not impossible. In many respects it’s like measuring corruption in journalism. It’s fine to accept your host to pay your lunch but wrong if this happens every time.
Consistency is a good benchmark when studying how refs are discriminated in Finland. Is the person with a non-Finnish name the one that is always the umpire and the person with the Finnish name the ref?
I was refing for one year all-nation games for seventeen-year-olds in Finland around 2006. I was always the umpire and my partner, with the Finnish name, who had roughly the same experience as I, was the ref.
When I brought this case to the attention of the Finnish Basketball Association, I got the cold shoulder. I was made to feel that my complaint wasn’t valid and that I was using the “racism card.”
The whole incident was as a result forgotten.
The stick that broke the camel’s back happened on Sunday when my former partner, who is the regional ref that names other refs for games, told me that I would be umpire in a game because I could not control my temper and lacked experience. Adding salt to injury with the help of prejudice, he laughed trying to drive home his point.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. According to him, I was “hot-tempered” because it’s the national character of southern Europeans (sic!).
As I mentioned, I have refed for about ten years and have learned the art of remaining calm under pressure. My job as a teacher and working with immigrants has taught me that staying calm is a key virtue at all times.
I ref to train and strengthen such virtues.
If you have suffered similar cases while doing sports in Finland, Migrant Tales would be happy to hear your story.