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Finland's biggest rally race attracts controversy

The participation of Russian drivers and protests by Extinction Rebellion are marring one of the biggest sporting events in Finland.

The Finnish leg of the World Rally Championship (WRC), Secto Rally Finland, gathered a record crowd on Thursday night as 20,000 spectators came to view the preliminary test races.

However, despite the increased buzz, controversies have also gravitated towards the event.

Earlier on Friday, the crowd did not follow instructions, which led to an extremely rare instance in which Finnish driver Kalle Rovanperä's test race was cancelled.

While this was the first time poor crowd behaviour cancelled a race in Finland, it is not the only controversy attached to the competition.

Question over Russian drivers

The participation of three Russian drivers in the competition has been criticised heavily, which has led many parties involved to react.

On Tuesday, the main sponsor of Finland's rally race, Secto Automotive, published a statement on the subject concerning the participation of the Russian drivers. According to the firm, not only is the situation embarrassing for them, but the Russians should not be allowed to drive in Finland.

However, according to the race director Kai Tarkiainen, he has not been surprised by the discussion surrounding Russian drivers.

Tarkianen added that he thought his organisation came under unfair criticism from the public and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is really the party to blame in this case.

"As an organiser, we have absolutely no chance of banning them [Russian drivers] from participating, if the FIA does not ban them.

Secto Rally Finland, however, banned the display of Russian and Belarusian flags and emblems in the grandstand.

Extinction Rebellion staging protest

On the other hand, Extinction Rebellion — a protest movement demanding a halt to climate change — is organising a demonstration today opposing the sport of rally racing on the basis of environmental concerns.

Extinction Rebellion is demonstrating in an area of the course in Jyväskylä that is at the intersection of the event's helicopter traffic.

Elokapina on ilmoittanut sosiaalisessa mediassa järjestävänsä mielenilmauksen Jyväskylässä MM-rallin aikaan. Liikkeen tunnus on maalattu Jyväskylän Lutakkoon nousevien rallitallien läheisyyteen. Image: Niko Mannonen / Yle

The environmental movement chose the spot for two reasons — fear over the reactions of rally fans and the goal of getting the attention of international camera crews for the protest.

The event takes place from Friday until Sunday in Jyväskylä and is one of the biggest annual sporting events in the Nordics.