FC Inter Turku player Vahid Hambon, who is a dual Finnish and Bosnian citizen, was a target of racial slurs at a recent match against FC Lahti. The incident has received national attention thanks to tabloid Iltalehti.
While racial slurs can be heard in Finland as well by fans, the important question we should ask is if bodies like the Finnish Football Association (FFA) are doing enough to address such problems, said Christian Thibault, executive director of Liikkukaa – Sports for All, an association that promotes greater inclusion of migrants and minorities in sports.
Amnesty International’s managing director for Finland, Frank Johansson, said last year that racial slurs and racism at football games were common in Finland.
“Why do experts at the [Finnish] Football Association say racist incidents should be reported to the home club but not directly to the Association?” said Thibault. “Why are they playing down the problem if it happens more often than we know?”
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Maurizio Pratesi, an expert on multicultural issues at the FFA, said recently that fans can help at games by reporting any racist incidents to the home team. He said that the problem isn’t as widespread in Finland as in other European country but that vigilance is still necessary.
“In Finland we don’t have that strong of a supporter culture so you can’t really talk about a widespread problem,” said Pratesi. “On the other hand this happens too often in the stands taking into account how few people attend games in Finland.”
The most recent case involving Hambo of FC Inter Turku is another sad example of racism at football matches in Finland.
“What is Football Associaiton doing to address these types of incidents,” asked Thibault. “It’s very rare in Finland that a player like Hambon takes up such an issue in the media. This is a good opportunity for them to address the issue.”
The Liikkukaa executive director added that since talented players like Hambon are the future of Finnish football they should do their best to defend and support them against racial slurs at games.
Hambon said that a fan insulted him and his family during the first half of the game against FC Lahti by yelling that he was happy about the mass deaths that took place in Serbrenica in 1995, when over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed by forces commanded by former General Rako Mladic.
The Bosnian Finnish player said that if FFA doesn’t take any action against what happened then “there’s the problem.”
“It’s the same thing if he yells at black players by using the n-word,” Hambon was quoted as saying in Iltalehti. “And then [on top of this] there are a lot of questions [in my mind] when I think that I have to put on the Finnish national football team shirt and represent these type of people and this country. It makes me think twice about representing this country [at a match].”
UPDATE (4.6 at 2:20PM):The FFA decided today not to take any action concerning the racial slurs by the Lahti fan against Hambon.
UPDATE (4.6 at 4:30pm):The fan that made racial slurs against Hambon has been banned from entering the stadium, according to Lahti-based Etelä Suomen Sanomat. The length of the ban will be announced later, according to FC Lahti general manager Tomi Honkanen.
Despite the action taken by FC Lahti, some consider a token. In Germany, Spain, Italy or England racist behavior by fans has meant for the home team to play in an empty stadium for three matches and pay five-digit fines.
Finland witnessed last year two cases where Veikkausliiga coaches got negative media attention for inappropriate comments. One of these was Rovaniemi Pallo Seura (RoPS) coach Juha Malinen, who claimed he had to “most Finnish team” in the country according to the surname of the players. The comment was considered offensive since there are football players of all ages in Finland that come from different national and ethnic backgrounds.
Helsinki football team HJK coach Mika Lehkosuo surprisingly described on a television show that the German team in the World Cup played like arbeit macht frei. The Nazi slogan, which means “work makes you free,” was found at the gates of a number of concentration camps like Auschwitz during World War 2.
“Palloliito recently gave Malinen a warning for some inappropriate statement but treated Lehkosuo’s comment with kid gloves,” said Thibault. “The rise of populism and anti-immigration sentiment in Finland hasn’t helped to diffuse the situation at football matches.”