At the end of July every year, the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä hosts one of the biggest events in the Nordic sporting calendar: Neste Rally Finland. According to organisers, the annual rally attracts an estimated 250,00 people who descend on bars restaurants and streets in a city with a population of just over 100,000.
The four days of competition among the world’s elite rally drivers also leads to the closure of many roads, parks and public areas around the city.
Putting Jyväskylä on the map
Jyväskylä resident Teemu Kantanen lives just beside the Rally HQ in the Lutakko area of the city, and although his neighbourhood is transformed by the crowds and the noise during the rally week, he is not unduly concerned.
“I don’t mind because it’s only one week of my year. I think it is well-organised and the local residents get permits to go through some areas.”
Kantanen also recognises the positive impact an event of this size has on the area’s global image.
“It promotes Finland's and Jyväskylä's brand - the forests, lakes, long sunny hours, saunas, and the natural environment - to international guests”, Kantanen says. “And of course the citizens of Jyväskylä get a chance to have a good time at a big international-scale event.”
Rally Finland Promoter Jani Backman explains the long-standing cooperation between the rally and Central Finland’s ‘lakelands’ region.
“We have a long history here in Jyväskylä, since the very beginning of the rally in the 1950’s, and we are now one of the biggest events that promotes the Jyväskylä region globally,” he told Yle News.
This promotion leads to a huge influx of tourists into the area for the rally, and Backman cites a recent research study into the economic benefits that this brings to the local area.
“People spend more than 20 million euros during Neste Rally Finland, during these four days,” explains Backman. “The total impact of that is 14.4 million euros to the Central Finland and Jyväskylä region.”
'People don’t care about the city'
Unfortunately, not all residents enjoy the annual rally carnival. The restricted access, noise pollution, excessive littering, and environmental concerns have inspired a group of locals to organise a protest march every year to highlight the event’s negative effects.
Participating in the march this year is Eppu Syyrakki, who lives near the Harju area of the city. His neighbourhood, and the nearby public park, has been cordoned off for days as it hosts one of the rally’s ‘Special Stages’ - with many unwanted and unpleasant consequences for local residents.
“In the evening when you open your door -- your front door -- there are people pissing on your street and almost on your doorstep,” says Syyrakki. “People don’t care about the city at all.”
Syyrakki, 34, has lived all his life in Jyväskylä and remembers being a big fan of the rally when he was a child. However seeing the many adverse impacts the event brings to his home city has led to him completely changing his mind.
“Personally I don’t like it. I know a lot of people who escape the city when the rally comes,” he says.
Local politician Matleena Käppi, a city councillor representing the Left Alliance party, hears these same complaints - and many more - from her constituents.
“The city of Jyväskylä is paying for the rally, that we let them be here and close our public streets and public parks. That makes many people angry, about losing the public space for a commercial event,” she says.
Käppi is attending the protest march in support of these constituents, but adds that on a personal level she is also worried about the environmental impact.
“My biggest concern about the rally is definitely the emissions. Tourists will bring us lots of money but in my opinion, if we are concerned about climate change, it’s not worth it."
Rally Finland promoter Backman says the organisers are aware of these complaints and they are making efforts to address them.
“Of course, sustainability is one of our key issues. For example, with our main partner Neste we make activities like using renewable diesel in our power generators and our staff cars.”
Reclaiming the city
Meanwhile many locals, and the protesters in particular, would like to see a lot more action from rally organisers to address their concerns. Syyrakki says he believes people will continue to protest as long as the rally is held in Jyväskylä.
“I’m not sure if this is going to change anything, but at least it’s a chance for people to reclaim a little bit of the city back from the rally.”