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Ex-hockey player Puhakka comes out as hockey plans rainbow match

Ex-hockey forward Janne Puhakka came out as gay on Sunday. Ilves and TPS will play a Pride-themed match in November.

Mestiksen jääkiekkopeli Jyväskylässä JYP-Akatemia vs Espoo United
Ex-player Janne Puhakka came out of the closet to help clear the taboo of homosexuality in hockey. Image: Jari Pekkarinen / AOP

Former elite-level ice hockey forward Janne Puhakka, 24, came out as the first publicly homosexual Finnish hockey player in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday.

"It would be ideal if I didn't have to talk about this," Puhakka said. "But as long as people are silent on the subject, we must speak up."

Puhakka said that LGBTQ subjects are taboo in Finnish hockey, and that he'd wanted to raise the issue while still active in the domestic 'Elite League' (SM-liiga).

"But I wasn't good enough to have complete security in my job. That brought uncertainty," he said. "I'm sure other players fear the issue because of their jobs, as well."

Puhakka started in the national under-18 team in 2013 and played 40 matches during his League career from 2015 to 2016. He then played in the second-highest ice hockey league in Finland, Mestis, finishing up the 2017-2018 season in France's Rapaces de Gap team.

Other Finnish athletes who have come out of the closet include footballer Tinja-Riikka Korpela, boxer Elina Gustafsson and swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen. Fellow hockey player Jon-Lee Olsen of Denmark announced his homosexuality in early October.

"The hockey world is somehow lagging behind," Puhakka said. "We wouldn't have to go through all this if everyone could be themselves in the locker room. I'm glad if even one junior or professional player finds something positive in this interview."

Ilves to play TPS in support of gay rights

Elite league team Ilves out of Tampere will meet TPS on home turf in Turku on 2 November for a Pride-themed hockey match. The event aims to promote LGBTQ rights and equality in Finnish sports.

Both teams will wear the colours of the rainbow as part of their gear for the special match.

Ilves and TPS will switch their jerseys to rainbow-coloured ones in November. Image: AOP / Tomi Natri

CEO Risto Jalo of Ilves-Hockey Ltd said that TPS invited his team to take part in the head-to-head.

Jalo said that no form of discrimination or exclusion is tolerated in Finnish hockey.

"Playing and spectating should be open to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, age, gender, religion, background or political views," Jalo said.

Jalo said that the teams along with the Elite League and other sports organisations are currently working to improve tolerance and equality in the culture.

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