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Helsinki Cup attracts near-record number of teams

The heat and pandemic haven't deterred young footballers from joining one of Europe's largest junior football events.

Kirsi Kavanne Helsinki Cupissa.
Helsinki Cup CEO Kirsi Kavanne. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

The six-day Helsinki Cup kicked off in the capital on Monday.

Some 1,370 teams are participating in Helsinki Cup this year—a near-record which is, according to the junior tournament's CEO, Kirsi Kavanne, at least partially attributed to kids' enthusiasm to resume their hobbies after pandemic restrictions.

"Children and teens have been suffering because of the restrictions. Now they're really excited to play," she said.

Kavanne pointed out that Covid mitigation measures are in place at Helsinki Cup, where appropriately distanced parents and fans are able to follow the games from the sidelines. Organisers have scheduled matches to keep teams from coming into contact with each other anywhere but on the field.

"We play on 15 pitches across the capital for around 12 hours a day," she explained, adding that the games are also streamed online.

The tournament includes some 4,000 games.

"We have signs reminding people about hygiene and appropriate distancing, but the teams already know these rules well," she explained.

The event culminates in Saturday's final, which will take place at the newly renovated Olympic Stadium for the first time since 2015.

In addition to coronavirus measures, extra heat-safety precautions are also in place during the tournament.

"Water stations also have buckets, and players can use sponges to cool off. We're making sure kiosks don't run out of drinks," Kavanne explained, saying players are being encouraged to stay in the shade between games.

First organised in 1976, Helsinki Cup in 2019 drew a record 1,381 teams. This year, the event is mostly a domestic affair. The Border Guard on Friday allowed four foreign teams—from Estonia and France—to enter the country.

President Sauli Niinistö, the former chair of the Football Association of Finland, serves as the tournament's patron.

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