The exotic sport of swamp soccer originated in Finland. World championships have been held every year since 2000, with over 250 teams enlisted for competition in 2003. Competition takes place in Hyrynsalmi, some 600 kilometres north of Helsinki and 180 kilometres east of Oulu. (Somewhat in the middle of Finland, depending on your definition of 'middle'.) As an offshoot of swamp soccer, the Deep Snow Soccer Championship, is held every winter in the same place.
What is Swamp Soccer?
Basically it is football - 1 - played on a genuine, wet Finnish bog. It started as an exercise activity for athletes, since playing on soft bog is physically demanding, and as a part of training for sports like cross-country skiing it has been around for decades. As exercise it isn't limited to Finland, but if more than one Finn does something, they are bound to organise world championships sooner or later2.
The following modifications have been made to football rules:
- Play is shortened to two halves of 13 minutes
- No changing of shoes during game
- Corner kicks, penalties and throw-ins are made with drop kicks
- No off-side rule
- Penalty area is 5 metres deep
- 1+5 players on field, with maximum of 12 on roster
- Unlimited changes
Since the bog is very soft, the ball won't roll very far and you can't make Pelé type moves to get past the opponent as the only real way to move the ball is by kicking it or using your head. This gives teams with good head players some advantage.
Who Can Participate?
Anybody can participate, as the competitions have both series for those playing for the title and 'amateur' series for those playing for the sake of playing. Naturally women have their own championships, although mixed teams can participate in men's competition.
The number of teams is limited to guarantee good field, er.. sorry, bog conditions, so to ensure international participation, there is a minimum quota of foreign teams.
The History of Organised Competition
The first organised competition was held in 1998, when 13 teams gathered to play for the Finnish Championship. 1999 saw an upgrade to European Championships with 69 teams playing for the title and the first World Championships were played in the year 2000 in ideal conditions. Heavy rains before the competition had softened the bog and temperatures during the competitions rose to 32° Celsius. Teams with a shortage of substitutes were doomed. Among the countries taking part in the competition were Sweden, Russia and the Netherlands. In the 2002 World Championships, 203 teams travelled to Hyrynsalmi and over 500 games were played. The 2003 event promises to be even bigger, with more than 250 teams preparing to fight it out on the Finnish bogs.