The story goes that rinkball evolved out
of a training exercise which was developed by bandy
players in Sweden in the 1960s. When the game arrived in
Finland during the same decade, it gradually started to
evolve into a sport of its own.
In the first years, rinkball was played in the local series in towns and villages. Towards the end of the 1970s, these village and town teams started to compete with one another in massive weekend tournaments gathering together as much as total of 100 teams. At the time, rinkball players were regarded as somewhat eccentric. People wondered what made these players travel around the country and play for two days and nights on end one weekend after the other. The reason for for players' enthusiasm was that rinkball offered an opportunity to continue a sport hobby that had taken up at younger age such as ice hockey or bandy. Rinkball offered a safer and easier alternative. Playing rinkball was also a great way to spend time with friends. Even though the team fell out of competition in the first rounds of the tournament, the players often stayed at the tournament site to have a good time. It should be remembered that it was not often that players took their wives and girlfriends with them.
In the course of the 1980s, rinkball started to resemble less and less its predecessor - bandy. The original bandy equipment was modified to meet the special demands of rinkball and changes to the rules were made frequently, almost on a yearly basis. The sport started going international in 1984 when the first official international match between Finland and Sweden took place. In 1987, Palokan Pyry and Hakunilan Riento took part in the North American Cup in Minneapolis, the United States. Around the same time, the Soviet Union and Switzerland also became involved in rinkball activities. In 1990, when newly fledged Swedish bandy champions had been beaten by the Finnish rinkball team 13-3, it became clear rinkball had finally managed to shake off the ghost of its predecessor.
In the spring of 1990, the time was ready for starting of series-level activities and founding of an indipendent association in Finland. More than 200 associations and almost 300 teams participated in activities of the Finnish Rinkball Federation during the first season. The International Rinkball Federation (IRF) was founded in 1992. Apart from Finland, Russia, Hungary and Switzerland were among the first founding members. It was something of a set-back that Sweden, Norway, the United States and Canada did not join the federation at the time. The progress was further slowed down by the fact that small Finland (5 million inhabitants) with its limited resources became the dynamo of international rinkball.
In 1995, the Finnish Rinkball Federation encompasses more than 550 associations, nearly 1000 teams and more than 12 000 men, women and junior players. Men's teams play in eight divisions (consisting of more than 60 groups) and women in two divisions. The activities of junior players have quadrupled and the current number of junior players in different age groups is around 3000. Tournaments organized at the local level brings together nearly as many as 80 000 players. Rinkball has become one of the most popular ball games in Finland. International activities has not grown as rapidly as was expedted in 1992. The massive social upheavel in Eastern Europe, the deep economic recession in Europe and a host of other reasons have slowed down the growth of international activities during several years. Today (1995) rinkball is doing well internationally, Sweden, Kazakhstan and Estonia are new members of the Federation and Holland has expressed its interest in joining the activities. Now one is looking to the New World across the ocean to make that final international breakthrough in the field of rinkball. (Editors notice: USA joined IRF in 1997. First World Championship Games for men will be held in 1998 in Omsk, Russia.)
Rinkball and business life
In the early years, rinkball players used bandy equipment. Upon the request of many players, equipment manufacturers gradually started to develop equipment which better fitted the demands of rinkball. In 1990s, world-renowned manufacturers of ice hockey sticks such as KHF SPORTS (Koho, Titan), MONTREAL, TAC STICKS and COOPER have rinkball sticks to be one of their most important items in production. As rinkball sticks have improved, players are able to hit harder and faster (even at the speed of 160 km/h) and due to this manufacturers have been compelled to improve their equipment for both fielders and goalkeepers. And today there is high-quality equipment available for rinkball players. The growing interest in this fast-paced sport expressed by televiewers and especially by the press and electronic media has served as an incentive for a number of firms and businesses which have traditionally not been directly involved with rinkball start sponsoring the sport.
As the tournaments have become more and more filled with action and speed, viewers and the television companies have shown a growing interest in the sport. In the begining, the broadcasting of tournaments was problematic because the orange ball was hardly visible on television, and this is why the color of the ball was changed to blue. And as the players were better able to spotthe ball in the rink, the change was successful and wellcome. In the Autumn of 1996, with the founding of the Rinkball League in Finland, top level rinkball will take a more professional dimension and the oncoming appearance of the league has produced the desired effect in the media. The league publishes a magazine called 'Liiga Extra', the circulation of which is around 1 000 000 copies, and the magazine has also been very well received in the business world. The television companies have also been genuinely interested in the broadcasting of rinkball tournaments played at the league level.
The Visions of the Future
From the international perspective, the future of rinkball looks promising. According to the most hopeful scenarios, it would be possible to introduce the sport into the Olympic Games but only if the countries where rinkball is widely played (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Hungary, Holland, Canada and the United States) and the countries interested in rinkball (Germany and Japan) join together to form a joint umbrella organization. This organization could thus act as a catalyst in developing rinkball into an internationally regocnized and valued sport. For the time being, it seems, though, that the participation in in World Championships is a more realistic objective, and this could become true before the end of the century. (1998!) In Finland, the main future aim is to vigorously invest in junior work which has had a good start and improve women players' opportunities at the local level. In terms of the marketing of top-level rinkball, there is still a lot to be accomplished, but otherwise we feel that we have got the hardest part behind us.
SIX PERFECTLY GOOD REASONS TO PLAY RINKBALL
1. Rinkball suits everybody
Rinkball is suitable team game for men and women as well as youngsters. In Finland, the age of rinkball players varies from 6-60 years. It is the most popular sport played on ice in Finnish schools.
2. You can make friends through rinkball
Team sports offer an excellent opportunity to make life-long friendships. Numerous life-long friendships have been made during the tournaments.
3. Rinkball has a touch of ice hockey and bandy in it
Rinkball begun as a by-product of bandy. Now it has developed into a game of its own and it is played in ice hockey stadiums. Rinkball sticks have developed at a rapid pace over the past few years. The stick is very similar to ice hockey sticks; the only difference is that rinkball sticks are shorter. The blue ball (6 cm in diameter) is made of cork and covered with plastic.
4. Rules of the game are simple
As offsides is not spelled out in the rules, rinkball is probably the fastest-paced ball game played on ice. Simple rules make rinkball easy to play. What is important is to know how to get the ball going and try to get it into the opponent's goal.
5. Rinkball keeps you fit
Physically rinkball is a very demanding sport. It requires more stamina than ice hockey. The breaks are rarer and changes of players are not as frequent as in ice hockey. On the other hand, a considerably less amount of force is needed, butas the game gets going this is not a disadventage. Allthough rinkball is clearly a contact sport, checking is not allowed, which makes the game safe and serious injuries are very rare.
6. Rinkball makes you experience the spirit of the team play
Rinkball is a typical team game. Those interested in team games are often interested in the unique spirit that only team games can offer. A sense of togetherness at the time of victory or loss is an experience that can be felt and shared only as part of a team. Rinkball is a perfect alternative among these game sports.