How minority athletes rise to victory – Interview with Star Athletics Winner Nooralotta Neziri

by , under Çelen Oben and Sheila Riikonen

Çelen Oben and Sheila Riikonen

 In Finland where finance and politics are no longer barriers to achieve star status in sports, what challenges do minorities face? Do female athletes, persons with disabilities, or those coming from immigrant backgrounds have equal opportunities in Finnish society?

Kuvankaappaus 2013-2-5 kello 8.05.28
You can visit Nooralotta Neziri official website here.

Nooralotta Neziri just won the women’s 60-meter hurdle on February 3, 2013 at the Star Atlethics  in Tampere (“Tähtien kisoista ja 23-vuotiaiden EM-kisoissa “). She achieved this with an impressive 8.14, while the second fastest Lotta Harala came at 8.20.  Already a national record holder and U20 European champion, Nooralotta now looks forward to the European Championships 2013 in Göteborg, Sweden.

We interviewed Nooralotta for a feature story as part of a project report for the EU and Council of Europe´s programme for Diversity and Social Integration of Minorities in Europe.

The authors Celen Oben (North Cyprus) and Sheila Riikonen (Philippines) travelled in Finland and Cyprus to interview sports figures from a minority background in a span of 10 days in December 2012. Here is the excerpt of the interview with her:

Nooralotta Neziri, 21 years old, first talked about what inspired her. “I started running at the age of 7. My inspiration was my uncle who encouraged me to join a running club to get friends as we moved to a new place. My family and parents are very proud of me and they never doubted my goals. They are always very supportive.”

She currently studies Master of Economic Sciences in Pori. Describing her career, her biggest records are the U20 European Championships Gold medal, U18 European Olympic Festival Gold medal and own national senior record 13.10.

Other achievements are National Champion 2012, U18 World championships 5th, U20 World championships 5th, and Youth national record.

Sponsors and big companies do not mean the same thing, she said. “Yes, they are big companies here, but the amount of money isn’t too big yet.  Last year I made the contracts myself but nowadays I have a manager to do those things. So I don’t have to use my energy to them.”

We spoke to her about some countries for example North Cyprus, when female athletes get married and have children; they stop running – what is her case?

“Usually, in Finland it’s the same. But I think it shouldn’t be over if you have a good motivation to continue training after giving a birth. There are many female athletes winning a medal in the Olympics who are mothers. It’s about your own motivation and how supportive your family is.”

Using drugs and doping are a sensitive issue where top-level athletes have been penalized.  “I would never even consider using that. I think it’s unfair towards others. And I wouldn’t risk my health with drugs. I believe I can become a world champion without ever seeing them, “ she said.

Nooralotta’s dad is a Macedonian Albanian while her mother is a Finn. “So I’m 50% Albanian 50% Finnish. I think that’s my strength, I have always been a bit different from everyone else and I think it so cool! I’ve learned to like my difference. My goal is to be the best hurdle runner in the world!”

While there are challenges in everyday life and seemingly insurmountable odds in international competitions, athletes like Nooralotta persevered. Families and relationships are big factors in their success. The role of mentors and clubs are also important. A passion for sports and healthy lifestyle are enabling factors to succeed.

  1. Mark

    Nice to see a story like this on Migrant Tales! More, please! 🙂

    Congrats to Nooralotta on her achievements to date, and hopefully more to come.

    • Joonas

      I agree. It’s nice to see for a change immigration success stories on MT. Not always this same old record “Finland is such a racist place and why the Finns can’t just change!” (little bit exaggeration, but that’s how it feels sometimes).

    • JusticeDemon


      What did you write here just two days ago?

      If they can’t accept our culture and live like we do, then they should find some other country to live in. They can’t come here and start telling us what to do, in our own country.

      Yet now you would definitely vote for someone who tells Finland to appoint its leaders in the style of Plato’s Republic:

      Selene muistuttaa, että Kiinan hallituksessa jokainen ministeri on tohtori. Julkkiksia ei ole, johtajiksi kasvatettavia suojellaan julkisuudelta.

      … who finds fault with the quality of Finnish family life (in much the same way as many immigrants):

      “Kiinassa lapseen investoidaan, koulutus maksaa. Lapsen menestyminen on kiinni vanhemmista, ja he kantavat siitä myös vastuun. Tiikeriäiti on kyllä vähän äärimmäinen muoto.”

      “Lapset ovat tottelevaisia ja kunnioittavat vanhempiaan. Mutta kunnioitus on molemminpuolista, sillä se johtuu myös eläkejärjestelmästä. Vanhemmat ovat riippuvaisia lapsistaan.”

      “Suomessa – nobody cares – kukaan ei välitä.”

      “Suomessa ajatellaan, että lapsi on yksilö ja hänen menestyksensä on kiinni hänestä.”

      … to the point of accepting violence directed at children:

      “On minua hakattu. Olen ollut hyvin vaikea lapsi, ekstrovertti ja kapinoiva. Vanhemmat pitivät kovaa kuria.”

      … who seeks to make society more inclusive and welcoming:

      “Ulkomaalaiset professorit kokevat, että heitä ei arvosteta täällä. Suomalaisen yhteiskunnan pitäisi olla sellainen, että he haluavat jäädä.”

      …and who makes up stories about direct experiences of racist conduct in public places:

      “Ja ymmärrän kyllä Abu-Hannan kokemuksia. Minullakin on sellaisia.”

      Consistency has never been your strong suit, has it Farang?

  2. Farang


    Yet now you would definitely vote for someone who tells Finland to appoint its leaders in the style of Plato’s Republic:

    There is no problem if immigrant gives suggestion which are beneficial to Finland. I am only against immigrants demanding changes which would only benefit immigrant and being harmful for Finland.

    Please try to understand what you read.

    • JusticeDemon


      There is no problem if immigrant gives suggestion which are beneficial to Finland. I am only against immigrants demanding changes which would only benefit immigrant and being harmful for Finland.

      Who is the arbiter of which suggestions are beneficial, and how does anyone know in advance that this arbiter will deem a proposal to be harmful? is it you? Should every immigrant consult Farang before making any suggestion, or do you have some magic formula that can determine whether a proposal is beneficial or harmful BEFORE it is discussed in the public domain?

      Selene suggested – without asking you – that Finland should be more inclusive and welcoming. Do you agree?

      She references her own experiences of public racially motivated harassment corresponding to those of Ummaaya Abu-Hanna and Hanna Nelimarkka, whom you immediately claimed to have fabricated her story about an incident in the ladies’ toilets of a Jyväskylä department store less than two weeks ago. Why should Selene have any more credibility than Abu-Hanna or Nelimarkka in making such allegations?

      We have barely scratched the surface of the politically relevant views that you say would definitely win your vote. How about the opinion that an influx of 130,000 Chinese immigrants would correct the dependency ratio? Is that also your opinion? Can we bank on your support for the ideal that Selene expressed in the following terms:

      Monissa suurissa maissa, kuten Yhdysvalloissa, on kokonaan kiinalaisia chinatowneja, joissa kaikki toimii kiinaksi. Niissä voi elää koko elämänsä kiinan kielellä: Aamulla avaat radion kuullaksesi kiinankielistä radioasemaa, syöt kiinalaisen aamiaisen, luet kiinankielistä lehteä, seuraat Kiinan urheilutuloksia, työpaikallasi kaikki puhuvat kiinaa, asiakkaatkin. Käytät kiinalaista autonkorjaajaa, hammaslääkäriä, psykoterapeuttia, kadulla kaikki kyltit ovat kiinaksi, poikkeat kiinalaisessa supermarketissa ja illalla tapaat kiinalaisia ystäviäsi tai katselet kotona kiinalaisia tv-sarjoja. Suvut ja suhteet toimivat, jokaisella on paikkansa.

      Frankly, I think you and your fellow fascists would rush to vote against any such development in Finland faster than you can say ghetto, but perhaps you have had some kind of Damascan conversion?

  3. Farang


    Selene suggested – without asking you – that Finland should be more inclusive and welcoming. Do you agree?


    Why should Selene have any more credibility than Abu-Hanna or Nelimarkka in making such allegations?

    You can see her history and her accomplishment, she is trustworthy, not a whining bi**h.

    • JusticeDemon


      Well that just about shoots your own credibility to hell, even as a self-appointed arbiter of the right to democratic participation.

    • JusticeDemon

      That story contains so little information that it is impossible to draw any conclusions from it, unless you are the all-seeing, all-knowing Farang, of course.

      Perhaps you are aware that your fascist forefathers in the 1930s and early 1940s kept people in segregated city areas. These areas were not free of crime. In fact the victims of persecution sometimes stole from one another and committed various atrocities against one another. Some victims also took the opportunity to settle old scores with their rivals, and the ghetto community also learned to dispense its own justice instead of relying on the persecutors to maintain order. I suppose your essentially Laestadian outlook thereby deems them “bad people” (i.e. irredeemable sinners) who deserved their subsequent extermination, Farang.

      Farang won't listen

      (I realise that this is roughly the point of moral complexity at which Farang buries his fingers in his ears and shouts la la la la la, but on the assumption that other readers are still following…)

      If the City fathers of Petrograd or Hamburg had arranged reception of refugees fleeing the Finnish Civil War, they would very probably have accommodated Whites and Reds in the same facility – at least initially and pending further investigation. Obviously in Farang’s opinion any conflict between these refugees arriving directly from opposing factions in a war zone would then have served as absolute proof that their stories of torture and murder happening in Finland at that time were entirely fictional.

      We simply do not know whether any of these individuals has a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. Nor can this recent incident have any bearing whatsoever on that question, which is the only issue that may be lawfully considered when assessing an application for international humanitarian protection.