|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
By the time this story appears, the annual World Ice Hockey Champs will long since have disappeared over the cultural horizon, and in all likelihood aren’t likely to be replaced by anything bigger for quite some time.
While the hockey was often fantastic, the event was so poorly organised and promoted that it makes me wonder how well Finland could handle a bigger event. While I don’t think it is fair to expect the buzz cities the size of London can conjure up for major events, if the event is, as the website claims, the foremost winter sporting event on the calendar, surely it deserved a little hype?
Walking around Helsinki on the morning of the opening game I had hoped to feel the city pulsing with life. Instead, I saw the odd group of puzzled tourists trying to find the part of the city that was awake. The crowning jewel of the organising committee was an enormous beer tent, erected right next to the stadium, and possibly bought second hand from a refugee camp. I found a couple of flags by the railway station, and a big advertising hording on Mannerheimintie. And that was it.
The highlight of the opening ceremony was a long-winded speech in three languages (including appalling English) from President Sauli Ninistö. Have you ever noticed how major sporting events try to avoid speeches from politicians? There is a good reason for that.
And then there was the TV coverage itself, which was simply odd. Only four games were featured on the major free-to-air channels, with the rest buried on some channel I’d never heard of, presumably to stop people watching them. Pay channel Canal+ kindly created a new channel for live games, meaning ordinary subscribers were also denied live coverage of many games on the regular Canal+ Sport channel.
“For events like the hockey
Most importantly, shocking ticket prices meant the stadiums were half empty, and the atmosphere dull as a result. Although organisers reacted quickly to slash prices, and showed real integrity to do, the damage had already been done.
It all could have been so much better. Why not follow the lead of other host cities, and erect giant screens and grandstands in the city centre? Why not have some free music concerts to create a bit of atmosphere? Why not agree with schools that any free seats can be given to kids a few of hours before the start of each game? And why not price tickets in such a way that someone other than bank directors can go?
I’ve long championed the idea that Helsinki needs vision and ambition. We need more events, be they sporting, cultural or artistic. I’d like to see us trying to land at least part of the European Football Championships, maybe a Formula One race or even a first class tennis or golf tournament.
For events like these to be successful, the city will need to re-think its approach to being a host city. In particular, it will need to learn from other smaller cities (Edinburgh, Auckland, Warsaw) as to how to really promote and organise an event as world class as our fantastic Leijonat deserve.