The annual Relay Carnival is an inter-school sporting event that takes place near the end of the school year, usually at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. It was held for the 60th time in 2022 after being suspended for two years due to the restrictions of covid-19.

Competition is a tradition among Swedish speakers from all over Finland. (Swedish is one of the official languages ​​of the country and is currently the first language of about 5.2% of Finland’s population.)

Anyone can participate

Cheerleader competition is as important as racing.Photo: Catalina Stewen

Approximately 10,000 runners participate in the two-day carnival, many of which participate in multiple races. Distances range from 400 meters to 5 kilometers, with dozens of events in categories for boys, girls, mixed teams, different age groups, large and small schools.

Cheerleader competition is as important as racing. The best songs and the loudest teams will win the award. Each school also has a mascot and a prize category.

Children hang out with old and new friends all over Finland when they are not running or cheering for the school.

Strengthen the bond

Some teams of children are in the process of passing the baton in a relay race on a running track.

The Relay Carnival encourages a healthy lifestyle where outdoor activities and sports are part of a happy daily life.Photo: Catalina Stewen

“The relay carnival was brought to Finland by Carl-Olaf Homén in 1961,” says Jeje Eklöf, executive manager of Staffettkarnevalen, as the event is called in Swedish.

“While studying at the University of Delaware in the United States, Omen represented his school at Penn Relays, the world’s oldest and largest relay race in Philadelphia,” says Eklöf. “After returning to Finland, he started the idea of ​​creating an interschool event for all students attending schools whose teaching language is Swedish.”

Most Swedish speakers live in areas along the south and west coasts. Gathering students from different parts of the country for two days of fun and sports helped create and maintain a shared identity and strengthen the Swedish-speaking community.

“The purpose is to create a sense of intimacy among this ethnic minority and promote a healthy lifestyle where outdoor activities and sports are part of a happy daily life,” says Eklöf.

Making memories

The band plays on the stage next to the running track, and the cheerleader swings a yellow pompon.

As the name implies, the Relay Carnival offers a festive atmosphere.Photo: Catalina Stewen

Almost all Swedish-speaking Finns have some relationship with the Relay Carnival as participants, teachers, or parents. A huge party at the Olympic Stadium creates lasting memories.

Eleven-year-old Sarah, Bianca and Ella from Botby Elementary School in Helsinki will participate in the Relay Carnival for the first time. Participating in a huge event is exciting, but the main attraction is playing with friends and enjoying the atmosphere. In addition to racing and cheering, he likes the tent area where he can enjoy various fun activities.

Elton and Alexander, fifth graders at Garby School in the west coast town of Vasa, boarded the bus by 5 am and headed to Helsinki with their classmates. Due to the distance, only the children participating in the race traveled, so they do not have their own cheerleader team. But they are all rooting for each other.

Excited

Some children pose in the form of stuffed animals that are about the same size as them.

Garby School kids show off a big stuffed mascot.Photo: Catalina Stewen

The team lays the mattress overnight in a local school classroom and returns home the next day. The boys proudly introduce the big bee, the school mascot.

On the first day, students from grades 1 to 6 compete, and on the second day, teenage students from grades 7 to 9 and above participate. Hundreds of organizers, teachers and parents ensure everything goes smoothly.

Many attendees conclude the event by visiting the Linnanmaki Amusement Park, not far from the stadium, and enjoying the final adrenaline rush on a breathtaking ride.

Catalina Stuwen, June 2022

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