FINLAND: Sport for all

Most of the world's attention has been focused on the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament and, although their team is not among those competing, Finns have been involved in intellectual participation in sport by hosting last week's 13th World Sport for All Congress.

Even if its national soccer team was not among the final 32 in South Africa, Finland has a long tradition of promoting sport and physical activity as means to maintain and improve the health and well-being of its citizens.

The congress was sponsored by the City and the University of Jyväskylä, and operated under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee, the World Health Organization and Sportaccord. Congress themes were health and social benefits, programmes and policies, and development and promotion. Several IOC members also participated in the conference.

More than 150 speakers addressed several hundred delegates from countries around the world on topics ranging from the general to the specific.

Among the former were papers on sports promotion, sports and health policy, sport and gender, sport and disability, and physical inactivity in adults. More specific presentations included ice hockey tactics in the Turin Olympics, the Norwegian rules for sport for children and the rights of the child in sport, and age-related differences in tibial bone properties in athletes participating in high-impact sport.

As befits a 'sport for all' conference, the social programme included orienteering, Nordic walking and geocaching, a pursuit that Wikipedia describes as a 'game of high-tech hide and seek'. In this activity, groups equipped with GPS transmitters hunt for 'treasures', combining aspects of the internet with exercise in nature.

Finland is no stranger to 'different' sports, among which it boasts annual international competitions for wife carrying and mud soccer. The latter would surely test the on-field skills of Rooney, Messi and Cahill. Annual competitions for both these events will be held next month in the cities of Sonkajärvi and Hyrynsalmi, respectively. The winner of the wife-carrying race is awarded his spouse's weight in beer.

* Ian R Dobson is an Australian scholar who spends much of his time in Finland. He edits the Australian Universities' Review and the Journal for Higher Education Policy and Management.