Since sports can be your passport to acceptance in a new country, its role should never be underetimated never mind undermined. It’s clear that we need to do more work in Finland to promote sports in order to include more immigrants and their children in this activity.
In the United States I played basketball, track & field, and soccer to gain new friends, respect and acceptance. If you were good at sports in school you were immediately accepted in the so-called elite student class.
Sports is an effective integrator because any sensible coach or trainer understands that racism and discrimination hurt the person’s and team’s performance. Teamwork works best when these latter social ills don’t take the driver’s seat.
Sports offers our integration program a good benchmark. Pereformance is judged by skills not by a sportsman’s or woman’s ethnicity.
Basketball was my passport to acceptance in the United States, track & field helped me to meet new Finnish friends and soccer enabled me to be accepted by Latinos.
This is me before the Fosbury flop at a track & field meet in California in 1971 between Hollywood and Eagle Rock High School.
One of the most important moments of my sporting career took place at the regional track & field championship in Varkaus in the early 1970s. I had won the high jump compeition but there was a slight problem.
”We cannot give you the award because you don’t live in Finland,” an official of the event said.
”But I am a Finn,” I responded. “My grandfather was an active sportsman and leader in SVUL [Etelä-Savo sports federation]. I visit Finland every summer.”
After much thought, the ogranizing committee decided to give me the award.
I am eternally grateful to them that they did. I tried to get in touch with the organizers thirty years later and thank them for making the right decision and not allowing nationality to get in the way.
But who had informed them that I didn’t live in Finland at the time?
In the 1970s Finnish citizenship was defined on very narrow terms. Even if my mother is a Finn, I had no right to citizenship. This changed in 1984, when children of Finnish mothers were given citizenship automatically.
One of the challenges facing Finland today is that there are too few immigrants that excel in sports when compared with Sweden or other European countries like England and Holland.
Leena Harjula-Jalonen of the Finnish Multicultural Sports Federation (FIMU) agrees.
”This situation should be better studied in order to address the issue more effectively [so more immigrants and their children can participat and excel in sports],” Harjula-Jalonen told Migrant Tales, adding that high participation costs and targeting state aid to such programs are some of the many challenges facing immigrants.
Here’s an article on Wednesday’s Helsingin Sanomat that sheds more light on the problem.