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Finnish sportsmen lose shorter military service stint

Sportsmen in Finland have reacted with dismay to the Defence Forces’ plan to ensure they no longer receive preferential treatment and a shorter term of service in the military. The move is down to a ruling by the deputy chancellor of justice that all Finnish men must be treated equally when their military tasks are defined.

Puolustusvoimien varusmiehiä.
Image: Laura Tolonen / Yle

Finnish sportsmen are fighting back against a proposal to end their special treatment when it comes to conscription to serve in the Defence Forces. All Finnish men have to perform a stint of military or civil service, with conscientious objectors facing imprisonment. Women are not required to serve.

For the last six months the military has been grappling with a ruling from the deputy chancellor of justice, Maija Sakslin. She ruled that the special treatment of sportsmen breached equality legislation and that it had to end.

This treatment has been grounded in the idea that elite athletes have a short career and a long military service requirement would hamper their ability to move abroad or to train at a sufficiently high standard in Finland. The military’s so-called ‘sports school’ is the venue for the training.

66 day service

Currently all sportspeople accepted for shorter service are trained as infantry and have a shorter service term. The current term for infantry is 165 days, down from 180 as of last year, with higher ranks serving either 255 or 347 days. Helsingin Sanomat reports that sportsmen serving at the sports school in 2011 were in official military training for just 66 days.

The military has now agreed a response to Sakslin’s ruling, and it means an end to shorter service. Sportsmen heading to the sports school have hitherto all been infantry, but in future they will go through basic training before they are selected for their tasks, and some may be ranking officers with a longer period in the army.

Athletes have reacted strongly to the news, with former Anaheim Duck Teemu Selänne posting a screed decrying the decision on Twitter.

'Pride in Finnish national defence'

"In the end it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the army for 65 or 365 days," wrote Selänne. "It matters whether you learn what needs to be learnt, and do you want to take pride in Finnish national defence."

Conscription has caused some legal wrangles for the Finnish authorities, with Amnesty International criticizing the length of civilian service—the non-military alternative for young men—which is fixed at 347 days. They then become part of the civil reserve which can be mobilized in an emergency if parliament approves.

Conscientious objectors, that is men who do not perform either military or civilian service, face a prison sentence. Recently the defence forces sent a letter to 900,000 men in the reserve outlining what their wartime tasks would be in the case of a general mobilisation.

The Defence Forces’ tighter rules for sportsmen serving in the army were reported first by Helsingin Sanomat.

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