For weirdness, Finland is a winner
HYRYNSALMI, Finland — There’s something strange going on in Finland. Over the past few decades, as it has all but disappeared from the global sports stage, this humble Nordic nation has sort of lost its sports mind.
More than 2,000 people ventured to the remote backwaters of central Finland recently for the 20th annual Swamp Soccer World Championships. If you and your spouse want to compete in the Wife Carrying World Championships, you must come to Finland. The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships? Finland. The World Berry Picking Championship and the Air Guitar World Championships? Finland and Finland.
“We have some weird hobbies,” said Paivi Kemppainen, 26, a staff member at the swamp soccer competition and master of the understatement.
Just look at swamp soccer in Hyrynsalmi, a place where Jetta can achieve a small level of celebrity over the years. Jetta is a stuffed badger ensconced in a bird cage. She acts as a mascot of sorts for a team of 12 friends who make the seven-hour drive each year from Vihti, near Helsinki, for the competition. They bought the doll seven years ago from a junk store at a highway rest stop, and her fame around the swamp has grown ever since. A couple of years ago, she was interviewed by a local newspaper.
On Saturday morning, the men stood around shivering in threadbare thrift-store suits, which they said were their team’s official warm-up duds. A bottle of vodka was being passed around (their preferred way, apparently, of warming up). It was about 10 o’clock. Soon it would be time for their first game of the day. They set Jetta aside and stripped off their outerwear, revealing skimpy blue wrestling singlets.
Before they treaded into the mud, they were asked a question: Why?