The Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation (SUH), in collaboration with a representative from the University of Jyväskylä and the Finnish National Agency for Education, conducted a nationwide swimming proficiency study in 2022 (SUH, 2023). The study revealed that a staggering 45% of sixth-graders either lacked sufficient swimming skills or couldn’t swim at all. Reports submitted to the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) indicated that children’s insufficient swimming skills led to serious water-related incidents and accidents.
Finland has witnessed several cases related to racism and anti-immigrant sentiments in swimming pools and other public spaces. These incidents underscore the need to combat such behavior and provide better training and guidance to staff to effectively address hate speech and racism. Promoting water safety and ensuring the safety of all residents in aquatic environments is crucial, considering Finland’s strong cultural focus on lakes, seashores, and saunas.
In the summer of 2023, Liikkukaa – Sports For All Ry conducted a case study related to swimming pools. The study is part of a larger research project undertaken by the EU Erasmus+ Monitora program. The research consists of 20 interviews and 2 case studies in each partner country, coordinated and evaluated by the
University of Liège. Liikkukaa – Sports For All Ry conducted the study in Finland with a team of researchers, sociologists, and organizational consultants. Racism is deep and systematic in sports, but in swimming it can endanger lives.
- In 2011, Jakomäki swimming hall discontinued separate swimming sessions for Muslim women due to negative feedback from other swimmers, as reported by the head of sports facilities.
- In 2016, a popular blogger revealed messages from the leader of an extreme-right movement. These messages shed light on the organization’s strategies and its collaboration with alternative media. The messages revealed a concerning agenda behind the organization’s actions, aiming to disrupt, pressure, and intimidate those collaborating with immigrants and their children, encouraging members and supporters to take targeted actions.
- In February 2017, this anti-immigrant movement expanded its activities from the streets to a swimming hall in Helsinki. A group of activists from the movement organized a “swim patrol” at the Itäkeskus swimming hall. During the patrol, activists allegedly encountered individuals of foreign backgrounds. They documented their experiences and later shared them on YouTube. Following this incident, an anonymous individual filed a complaint with the Helsinki police regarding potential crimes committed by participants in the swim patrol, including acts related to public decency, harassment, coercion, and breach of peace. The complainant called for an investigation into the case, which included elements related to race, ethnic background, and religion.
- In February 2020, a racist harassment incident occurred at a Helsinki swimming hall, involving Nasima Razmyar, the deputy mayor for culture and leisure in Helsinki. This case emphasizes the need to address racism and verbal violence in public spaces (Iltasanomat, 2020). Nasima Razmyar, the deputy mayor, reported on Twitter that her mother had faced racist verbal violence at a local swimming hall.
This incident at the Helsinki swimming hall further underscores the ongoing problem of racism and verbal violence in public spaces. While measures have been taken to combat such behavior, improved training and guidance for staff are needed to effectively address cases of hate speech. This case serves as a reminder that there is still much work to be done in creating inclusive and respectful environments for all individuals in public spaces.
- In the summer of 2023, an anti-immigrant activist entered a swimming hall in Espoo, a neighboring city of Helsinki, to film children who appeared to be of immigrant background and were alleged to be behaving poorly in the facility. A lifeguard on duty asked the man to stop, as he felt the man was harassing the children. The lifeguard was also perceived as having an immigrant background by the far-right activist and became the target of filming and verbal abuse. The police were called, and the man was escorted out. He was informed that no criminal report would be filed against him, but he would receive a ban from the swimming hall.
- In late July 2023, a heartbreaking incident occurred in Helsinki as a 10-year-old boy tragically drowned at the Jakomäki sand pits. The life of the 10-year-old was lost at the Jakomäki sand pits in Helsinki. The sorrowful sequence of events began to unravel on Sunday evening when the child failed to return home. Concerned family members promptly contacted emergency services to report the disappearance, leading authorities to initiate a search operation in the vicinity. Ultimately, the boy’s belongings were discovered on the shores of the sand pit, prompting the deployment of divers to the scene.
The Jakomäki sand pits, located in Northern Helsinki near the Vantaa border, are not official swimming areas, although the establishment of an official swimming spot in the area has been considered at times (Iltalehti, 2023). According to interviews conducted, immigrants are known to prefer swimming in secret and non-official spots in order to avoid racist harassment by other swimmers. Despite racism at swimming halls and all other problems, it is important for parents to make sure they children learn to swim as early as possible, you can never know what situations your child will get into.
It is crucial that authorities and the police investigate and monitor such cases, upholding the principles of the rule of law. Everyone has the right to a safe and non-discriminatory environment in public spaces, and such behavior should not be tolerated. It is also important that society and authorities work together to promote understanding and respect among all citizens. This can help reduce racism and anti-immigrant sentiments and create a society where everyone can feel safe and welcome.
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