Finland's top pro hockey league has a message for gay players: Stay in the closet.
Last week, the official blog for Liiga ran a blog post by freelance journalist Ari-Pekka Kaipiainen who blamed the media for asking when a gay player will come out.
Kaipiainen has worked for a conservative Christian radio station and the article strongly hints that he supports reparative therapy, said Ossi Halme, a longtime journalist who has written for the gay news site Ranneliike.net. The column included Kaipiainen offering "help for those whom are struggling with their sexual orientation." The article's message, Halme told Outsports, was that gay players should keep their sexual orientation to themselves and also indirectly refers to being gay as only being a sexual act. "Why should bedroom dynamics should affect team dynamics," the article said.
When the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat asked the manager of the league's website about the ensuing controversy, it was told that "Liiga signs the blog entry," thus making it their official standing. The league defended the post by saying it wanted a diversity of opinion. This comes only about a week after Liiga refused to sign the Finnish version of You Can Play, Halme said. The Promise for Equality in Sports, known by its acronym TAULU, says that there is no room for homophobia in sports and that all athletes are valuable no matter their sexual orientation.
"I find appalling that Liiga gives formal blessing to a blog post like that," Halme said. "Especially when just a few days earlier they refused to sign TAULU, which is a very loose and easy-to-agree text without any links to activism or politics. On the other hand, this is pretty much Liiga as I’ve learned to know it -- outdated and avoiding all responsibility. But the debate will go on, either with or without them.
"From a journalistic point of view, the blog entry was unfair and blamed the media for something it hasn't done or even hinted. No one had been trying to out a hockey player. If they would have wanted to do that, they would probably resort to some kind of a paparazzi-style of action. The media have only wanted to talk about this issue, which was taboo until 12 months ago, after I wrote the first-ever interview of a Finnish professional male athlete, who is straight, on gay issues. In a way I feel a bit responsible for starting this conversation."
Ice hockey is Finland's top sport but Halme said its grip is loosening because the league is seen as old-fashioned in its thinking, as evidenced by it running the anti-gay post. Earlier this month, the Finnish public broadcasting corporation YLE asked the league's 14 team captains about gay rights. Of the 12 who answered, nine said they believed that there are gay and bisexual players in their teams. Two curiously said that there were no gays because they would have heard of any who were. Eight of the captains also support gay marriage. Finland is the only Scandinavian country where gays can’t marry, but the parliament will vote on such a law before elections in March.
Despite being a Finn, Halme admits that Nordic rival Sweden is far ahead of his country on supporting gays in sports. Swedes playing in the NHL were among the first players to sign on with the You Can Play Project, while it took a year for the first Finnish player to do so.
I appreciate Halme keep our audience up to date on this. I would have thought that a place like Finland would be more progressive on this issue, but it is clearly behind Sweden and the U.S. We often forget that the struggle for gay equality in sports is worldwide and it's important to shine the light on issues wherever they crop up.