Stop us if you've heard this one before... top-tier women's hockey team folds to save money for lower-tier men's team.
In a major hit for Finnish women's sporting representation, Espoo United owner Jussi Salonoja announced this week that both the women's ice hockey and basketball teams won't operate this season due to internal financial issues. The women's basketball team has already acquired a transfer to Tapiolan Honka, but the future for ice hockey is uncertain. The inaugural Naisten Liiga season starts in one month.
What's crystal clear, though, is where Salonoja's priorities lie.
"The reason is twofold: the men's teams' budgets are far greater than those of women's teams, so their running is more demanding, but on the other, [the men's teams] are more interesting to sponsors and audiences," he told Ilta-Sanomat.
Women's hockey in Espoo, a suburb of Finland's capital Helsinki, has a rich history. The Espoo Blues won 13 championships in the SM-Sarja (the highest level of women's hockey in Finland, renamed Naisten Liiga starting this season) before their parent organization went bankrupt in 2016; in their first year as Espoo United the team won silver in the Aurora Borealis Cup championships after a hard-fought series against victors Oulun Kärpät Naiset.
The Espoo United men's team plays in the second-tier Mestis league, where they finished fifth last year in the standings and earned a post-season bronze medal. Yet, it's the women's team, at the top level of their game with their championship victories and a roster brimming with Olympic talent, that must take the fall. The systematic devaluing of women's athletics demands it, just as it did when Sundsvall in Sweden's SDHL was folded to save money for their men's team.
There is some hope for the women of Espoo United, though. Finnish public broadcaster YLE reports that HIFK, Helsinki's Liiga team, are interested in helping the women of Espoo United stay active this season.
Emma Terho, former Olympian and current member of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association, preached both calm and caution to YLE, saying,
"The situation is pretty well under control. Right now, we are investigating which option for the future is the best."
With the PyeongChang games looming on the horizon, Terho also stressed the importance of finding a solution: "This is a great hurry and we know that ice time is on the card."