Naisleijonat head coach Pasi Mustonen has some strong words on his country's treatment of female hockey players. In a March 3 blog post called “Who Needs Women?” on Leijonat.fi, he singled out both the Finnish hockey establishment and the Finnish media for their lack of interest in the women’s game.
“Throughout its entire 30-year history, Finnish women’s hockey has been in disguise on the ‘media periphery,’ with the exception of the Olympic Games and the preceding weeks,” he wrote, and cited the “minimal new coverage” after the Naisleijonat’s historic Nations Cup victory over Canada as an example.
While Team Finland has taken home 11 bronze medals at the IIHF Women’s World Championships, every national team’s ultimate goal is Olympic gold, and the Naisleijonat are no different. In five Olympic appearances they’ve never placed higher than third; they won bronze in 1998 and finished fifth at Sochi in 2014 after medaling in Vancouver four years earlier. Mustonen’s proposed solution to achieving more is realistic, if difficult: “Only a complete change of attitude led by the League clubs can significantly enhance the capacity to reach major championship medals ... women’s possible success is not yet seen as an important value in most League clubs.”
The highest level of regular-season play available to Finnish players wishing to stay in their home country comes from the Naisten SM-Sarja, founded in 1982. Five of the Naisten SM-Sarja’s eight 2016-2017 teams — Kalevan Pallo (KalPa), Hämeenlinnan Pallokerho (HPK), Oulun Kärpät, Lukko, and Tampereen Ilves — share a name with and fall under the umbrella of their men’s Liiga counterparts, who are not under the direct authority of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association.
On March 18, just over two weeks after his blog post, Mustonen went on record with Finnish national public broadcast network YLE to say that all Liiga teams should set up a women’s team and devote more resources to developing the women’s game: “We should get League clubs to wake up to the value of the women’s teams.”
YLE also spoke to Executive Chairman of the League Board of Directors Heikki Hiltunen, who said he “understood” Mustonen’s perspective while citing economic and financial issues that currently prevent it from becoming reality. In addition, Finnish Ice Hockey Association President Harri Nummela stressed he does not believe in making it compulsory for Liiga teams to establish women’s teams and invest in them. Both men emphasized they’re open to future discussion for growing the sport, and Nummela cited next year’s Olympics for the visibility it will bring, yet it’s difficult to read their comments without thinking back to Mustonen’s blog post.
“League club makers are mainly men, stuck in their family role perceptions. This Stone Age way of thinking leads to directing all resources to men and boys,” he wrote. “And in 2019, when the [IIHF World Championship] games will be played at home, will you care then?”
It’s rare, if not unheard of, to hear a national team coach speak so brazenly, but Mustonen has never been one to mince his words. His comments, especially in light of Team USA’s strike announcement, highlight that the fight for equality in women’s sport remains a global issue.
Thanks to Arto Palovaara for translation help.