Finland’s equalities ombudsman has said the announcement by Valolinna in Heinola that “The gym will remain Finnish” appears to breach discrimination rules. Police said no official complaint has been filed.
Finland’s equalities ombudsman has criticised a gym in Heinola, south-central Finland, for announcing on its website and in a newspaper ad that it will not accept any members who are immigrants.
An announcement on the Valolinna gym in Heinola’s website – which has now been taken down – announced: “The Valolinna gym will remain Finnish. Immigrants who have moved to the area from elsewhere will not be permitted to become our customers, because the gym is full.”
The policy appeared shortly after it was announced that a reception centre temporarily housing asylum seekers will be opening soon in the same complex of buildings as the gym. The building is a former hospital.
Insisting that he was simply informing people that the gym has no more space for new customers, owner Pertti Heikkilä told Yle: ”We wrote the announcement in that way, and it’s clearly provoked people. There’s nothing more to say.”
Heikkilä said the reception centre would have marketed the proximity of the gym and spa to its residents, without first asking his permission.
The owner of the company which owns the complex of buildings which includes the gym and the forthcoming reception centre, Juha Kukkonen, later told Yle that he was bewildered at Valolinna’s policy.
“When something such as a reception centre is planned for somewhere, of course you ask what other services are in the area. We can’t keep that a secret from people. We tell all the residents of the space about food services, property, spas and so on,” Kukkonen said.
“For some reason the arrival of a reception centre is seen as some terrible threat. We have lots of empty space, and the centre won’t harm anybody. Everyone still gets to live their own life,” Kukkonen said.
“I don’t know if it’s such a terrible thing to encounter a foreign person,” Kukkonen added. “I was surprised that the reaction has been so extreme.”
Finland’s Equality Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä said that the gym’s policy appeared to breach discrimination rules.
Pimiä said that a policy of this sort must apply to everybody equally, if the issue is that the gym is full and no new customers can be taken on.
“This announcement appears extremely unpleasant and unusual. One could think that it is partly racist,” Pimiä said.
“Given the forthcoming reception centre, one could conclude that the announcement is actually intended for there and is an attempt to demonstrate prejudice against immigrants,” Pimiä added.
Not a police matter
Häme police said they would not take a position on whether the announcement amounted to discrimination or was morally wrong. Detective Inspector Matti Purhonen said that although the statute does outlaw discrimination, “the interpretation of the law is another question altogether.”
Purhonen said that the announcement is not a police matter unless somebody makes a formal complaint about it.