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20.3.2003
Unknown soldier

Sergeant Riihilahti, South Finland third brigades investigating unit, reports on duty. No more preparations for games, training grounds or crowded stadiums, just my riffle and orders to be followed. War is a different world from professional football.

I hope and am quite sure that this will never happen. But if for example Iraq, USA or anyone else ever decided to attack Finland I would have to leave my football behind and put on my other national uniform. I am a footballer but also due to my national obligations a trained soldier.

So are likes of Hyypiš and Litmanen because we have a compulsory military service in my home nation. Doesnít matter if you are a pop star, a celebrity, a student, a constructions worker or a footballer, as long as you belong in the category of male, you have to go to the army.

I was nineteen when I was given a riffle. Like every one else I was marching, skiing in forests and learning other military skills for eleven months. Before that I only knew how to kick a ball but soon I was also able to recognise all types of Russian tanks even in the dark or to hit any target inside 300 meters range with many different weapons.

I guess it is not very likely for promising athletes in other countries to have this kind of thing scheduled into training and competing program. At the base, there was some chance for sports as well, but the main focus was to learn how to defend our country more lethal ways than slide tackles.

Some athletes found it was too hard to wake up 5.30 am, do nine hours of quite physical military training and then try to compete in sports. It wasnít the best preparation for a game to sometimes live weeks in snowy forests training military skills without even having a chance of figuring how a football looks like. However it didnít prevent Hyypiš, Litmanen and many others to become world-class sport stars.

Personally I didnít play a good season during my service but I learned a lot about physical training, teamwork, good values and discipline. I can now also shoot with a tank and a machinegun but my left crossing ball didnít get worse or jealous from that.

I hope and am quite sure that I donít need to use any of my skills or my uniform ever again. Finland isnít very likely to be in any kind of war although the whole world seems to be on alert and mass media gives us an impression that many countries are preparing for some action.

The main news and discussion for a long time have been the possible war against Iraq or terrorism or whatever it actually is. Even though we all been fed by tons of information I guess me, like most of us donít really know what is happening. All I know is that it is very unlikely that the situation in the world would require sergeant Riihilahti instead of midfielder Riihilahti. But who can really tell what is the truth in all this?

Some people think they can. There have been all sorts of celebrities, wannabes and other ďimportant peopleĒ giving their opinions and views about the situation. I have seen and heard these nuggets making statements and behaving like they had the solutions or something important to say. I donít understand how can they think they are qualified to do that?

People know me as a footballer that also writes and doesnít hesitate to give an opinion. Recently, I have been frequently asked about my views on the Iraq crisis. I havenít commented.

I believe that I, like anyone else is allowed to give an opinion about anything. It is good that we have the freedom to speak. But why should I in this serious subject? What good could I possibly achieve with that? I donít know enough and have no access to all the necessary information. I am not qualified to judge this kind of conflict.

I have read the papers and watched the telly and thought of many things by myself. I wouldnít hesitate to make even strong official statements if I had enough right kind of knowledge based on proper facts about the matter. However the knowledge I have received from the media is not complete enough to make well-justified views. The information is often quite one-sided and could be influenced by political views, even propaganda. Not everything we read is truth and at least not the whole truth.

So based on what I have read and seen on telly I couldnít possible know what is right and what is wrong or what would be the best solutions. My opinion would be too much based on emotions and guessing.

That is not good enough because serious issues like this should be dealt with and officially commented by qualified people who have an access to right information and know what they are talking about. As well as they have the responsibility to give us as much right information as possible, the rest of us have a responsibility to be quiet unless we have a strong facts behind our arguments. Obviously it is different what people say in private but all emotional and irrational official arguments on weak basis made by unqualified persons could be only first steps to anarchy.

Imagine if all the big athletes like Michael Jordan and David Beckham would give strong statements about situations like wars. They are more popular than George Bush or Tony Blair could ever be and their words are often interpreted literally. People wonít miss a statement made by their idols but usually wont even give a look to any politicianís interviews. I donít mean that big idols can really make or prevent wars, but I believe they could have a bigger effect on normal people and their behaviour than any politician.

That is why it is important for influential people like top athletes to understand their responsibility not to make any controversial official comments on serious issues on weak basis. In modern society their involvement to issues they donít know anything about could do more harm than good. Luckily I havenít heard a single political statement or argument about the possible war from any footballer.

I am a midfielder who doesnít want a movie star refereeing my game. I might have to be a soldier and I definitely donít want a pop star to have anything to say on weather that has to happen or not. I hate and canít see the motives behind any unqualified people trying to get involved in matters way out of their range. It is different to comment on Riihilahtiís positioning in a football game than making official political statements in worldwide war issues.

After all we have to trust that in democratic way we have chosen the best people through election to represent us and make important decisions for us. They are qualified for specifically to that job and they have all the information, people and technology to support them. I am more than happy to give an advice to Tony Blair about slide tackling the opponent but I wouldnít dare to advice him on his leadership expertise on crisis situation.

So here is my official statement about Iraq situation: I donít know enough facts and I am not qualified to see all aspects to be either for or against any actions. I am not qualified to give any relevant and well-justified official argument. I feel that it would be stupid, irrelevant and irresponsible for me to answer or anyone to ask me about it. I trust that the best people are dealing the matter in the best possible way for everyone. Overall I donít know about this situation but generally I wished that the world would be a safer, happier and more harmonious place.

The freedom to speak is important. The influential people should use it, but they should use it well because it is a powerful weapon. Sometimes not using it is the best way. I think athletes and pop stars should take that responsibility because they are influential people with lot of attention and power in modern society. They have a great chance of making a difference in many other areas than wars.

I believe that role models could and should be involving more to improvement of the society and helping with common good things. They have the chance to affect many people and also to pull some strings too far from normal citizens. There is a lot of room and need to speak up. And it would be ignorance not to.

I am a footballer. I am a writer. I am also a trained soldier. I hope that I will ever only need to be the two first mentioned. Those are also the only ways for me to make any difference. As a half-known writing footballer I can actually reach quite a many people so I really want to choose my words carefully. I hope I could at least make some good at my time but commenting on wars is not one of them.

Obviously I can state that the ultimate best would be that there would never be any wars. That is naÔve to think and highly unlikely to happen. Sometimes weapons seem to be the only solution for complicated issues, I donít know. Obviously it would be better if there were another way for solving all our indifferences, something not as lethal and that would present good values spoken all over the world.

May be a game of football? In that way the only harmful missiles in the world would be footballs kicked by the likes of Beckham. And this naÔve and stupid statement is exactly something we should be scared of and one of the reasons why us simple footballers shouldnít give any views about serious matters too far from our battlefields.


This time I recommend:

1. People like George Michael to sign rather than talk
- Who does these people think they are and what do they think they know! -
2. Not to make any public irrational and emotional comments on no basis
- The essence of democracy is to believe that we have the right people to make the calls -
3. La Dolce Vita Ėrestaurant in Wimbledon
- Bit creamy, but great food -


I do not recommend:
1. Making war a way to promote yourself
- How opportunistic and naÔve it is to try to make headlines by commenting wars on pop stars Ėbasis -
2. The Guru Ėmovie
- How can this be at Blockbusters most wanted list? I put it to my list of worst movies ever made -
3. Write a long story and contradict it in the last paragraph
- Some people might actually think that I have a point in my phoney solution -



ď Man is not a creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creatures of men.Ē
- Akimin Disraeli


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