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Rally Finland cancelled over coronavirus concerns

The event is Finland’s largest sporting occasion in terms of audience participation.

Ott Tänakia juhlitaan Jyväskylän MM-rallin 2019 voittajana Ruuhimäen supererikoiskokeen jälkeen.
There will be no scenes like this in Jyväskylä this year, as Rally Finland will next be held in 2021. Image: Tomi Hänninen

The board of AKK Sports, which organises the Finnish World Rally Championship (WRC), announced a decision on Wednesday to cancel this year’s event due to the coronavirus crisis.

This August would have marked the event's 70th anniversary, held annually in the Central Finland city of Jyväskylä, but celebrations of the landmark will now be delayed until next year.

Rally promoter Jani Backman told Yle that the decision was not an easy one to make.

"This was the most difficult decision of my career so far, but on the other hand the last few months have shown the right direction and there are too many question marks in the air," Backman said, adding that AKK Sports does not want to take any risks despite the current Covid-19 situation in Finland seems to be improving.

In terms of numbers of spectators, Rally Finland is the country’s largest sporting event.

"It would be a risk if a significant number of people were brought here from abroad - the audience would be huge," Backman explained.

The organisation made its own decision to cancel the race, which had been scheduled for 6-9 August, instead of waiting for guidelines from the Finnish government regarding planned major events in late summer and early autumn.

The government has currently limited large gatherings to a maximum of 500 people until 31 July, with an announcement on further restrictions or exemptions expected before Midsummer.

AKK Sports' Deputy Clerk of the Course, Kai Tarkiainen previously said that organisers were not considering postponing the competition until later this year, for example to a date in the autumn.

"The only correct solution"

Mayor of Jyväskylä Timo Koivisto told Yle that while the decision is a huge disappointment for the city, it was to be expected and is "the only correct solution" under the circumstances created by the pandemic.

The staging of the rally in the Jyväskylä region usually injects about 15 million euros into the local economy. In addition to this loss of revenue, Koivisto pointed out that the city will also lose international visibility.

"Every year, 400 foreign journalists are accredited for the rally in Jyväskylä and television images go to about 150 countries," Koivisto said. "The rally reaches tens of millions of people around the world. There is no other way to achieve such visibility."

Despite the cancellation of this year’s event, Koivisto added he was hopeful about a return to normal next year.

"When the rally is held in Jyväskylä again next summer, this will be remembered as only one missed year," Koivisto said.

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