Finland European Elections

Finnish players promoting European elections: "We have an opportunity to make a difference"


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Finland European Elections
  • The Football Players Association of Finland is encouraging citizens to vote in the European Parliament elections

  • National team captains created video messages to raise awareness

  • “Players can have a positive influence in protecting the values of democracy”

Players in Finland are raising awareness of this year’s European Parliament elections. “To us, democracy is very important,” said Panu Autio, the executive director of the Finnish professional football players association JPY. “We believe in democracy.”

From 6 to 9 June, European Union citizens can vote for the European Parliament to elect a total of 720 members for a five-year term. In Finland, citizens are allowed to vote on 9 June. “It is a fact that in our country the turnout for the European elections is generally lower than national elections,” said Autio. Five years ago, 40.8 percent of Finnish citizens voted, while in January this year, almost 68 percent of voters turned up for the presidential elections.  

The player union is collaborating with the European Commission’s office in Finland, which reached out to the JPY for support. Autio said: “We have created videos with the captains of the men’s and women’s national teams and national futsal teams. And during our general assembly in March, we had a special video booth where players could also record a video message.

“The players spoke about what being European means to them and why democracy is important, and illustrated how ‘Europe’ is already a part of their lives, for example when they play in international competitions or make an international transfer.”

Five years ago, the Finnish player union was also involved in the election campaign, as part of an agreement between FIFPRO Europe and the European Parliament. Autio said: “It was a very good experience. I was still a player then and I also recorded a video. It offered us, the players, an opportunity to make our voices heard, to show that players are part of society, and how we can have a positive influence in protecting the values of democracy. Of course, we have to remain neutral: we are campaigning for people to vote, without telling them for whom they should vote.”

The Finnish union has picked democracy to be this year’s theme for a variety of reasons, such as the presidential and European elections in Finland and polls in various other countries, but also to illustrate how much democracy is part of football. Autio said: “I know democracy is not a term that immediately will get players excited, but once you explain them how often they are working with democratic principles in football, then you will draw their attention.

“We vote on so many things in football. Within your team, you could vote for the captaincy, agree on disciplinary sanctions, have influence on patterns for dead-ball situations, or decide on social events.

“As a union we organise votes for player of the month awards, the best players of the season honours, the FIFA FIFPRO World 11, we organise surveys and visit locker rooms to hear the players’ voices, and recently we had our general assembly where our members could decide on the new composition of our board.”  

Autio, who had a successful career as a professional futsal player before becoming executive director of the Finnish union, knows from experience how important it is that the voice of players is heard.

He said: “The best athletic results in my career were born in teams where players had strong ownership of the democratic process and the feeling of having a genuine chance to make a difference. The same is true at higher levels of government. We have a voice and opportunity to make a difference.”