Racism, children and football in Finland

by , under Enrique Tessieri

If you want to find a short cut into racism in Finland, read the anonymous comments after a news story on the topic. One such story, published Monday by Turku-based daily Turun Sanomat, is a perfect example.

The news story is about a group of 10-11-year-old boys who were returning by ship to the mainland from the Alandia football tournament in the Åland Islands. A drunk man approached a few of the boys by the slot machines and told them that Finnish junior football would never improve as long as foreigners played on teams.

One of the boys, whose father is from South America, told the man that he is a Finn. The drunk man scolded the boy.

“Are you a racist?” the boy asked.

The man responded in the affirmative.

At this point the boy’s  teammates got involved and asked the man if he ” was stupid.”

Näyttökuva 2014-7-22 kello 11.29.45


Read full story (in Finnish) here.


The whole affair ended when the boys’ coach turned up and spoke to the man.

“You’re an eighty-year-old man and that child is 10 years old,” he said. “Aren’t you ashamed [of your behavior]?”

On top of his racist and aggressive behavior, the man told the 10-year-old that he pays taxes and doesn’t like foreigners playing football in this country. The boys asked the man to leave, which he didn’t.

Apart from pushing a women on the breast, the man called the boy a mulato, a term that comes from the Spanish word mula, or mule.

The man was eventually escorted handcuffed by security personnel and locked up at port in a police cell.

Should it surprise us that some of the comments that followed the Turun Sanomat story defended the old man’s actions?

One in particular, who calls himself anonymously Faktoja, revealed in a comment the issue of racism and lack of inclusiveness in Finnish society.

 Writes Faktoja: “The boy [who claimed to be Finnish] lied because he was ethnically half a Finn. His nationality was of course ‘Finnish.'”

The boy “lied?” Are white Finns taught that a naturalized Finn is a second-class Finn because one of his parents is a white Finn?

Since when were Finns only white? Everyone in this country was once a migrant unless you believe in wise tales like that the Garden of Eden originated in Finland.

Faktoja’s narrative, then, is a pretty common perception that white Finns have of themselves and how they construct reality about themselves. The way Finns make sense of their identity in Finland is by forgetting that their relatives were once, a long or a short time ago, migrants as well.

Why have they forgotten such an important piece of information from their narrative? Because it gives them power over migrants and newcomers by reminding them that they are from somewhere else or Other.

Christian Thibault, chairman of Rasmus, a Finnish anti-racism NGO, said that the latest incident on the boat comes after two other ones recently involving premier league coaches, Juha Malinen and Mika Lehkosuo. 

“Where is the official reaction?” he was quoted as saying on Facebook. “How long can we leave the children, their coaches and parents alone with this [issue]??”

This important question made by Thibault could be expanded and asked why politicians, civil servants, teachers and most of Finnish society doesn’t say anything or very little about inclusion of newcomers?

Taking into account that the majority of foreigners in Finland live in poverty, according to Pekka Myrskylä of Statistics Finland, the Finnish dream should be much more than being an eternal outsider, collecting indefinitely less welfare than white Finns and looking at a dead-end.