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Finnish Event Heroes: Arctic circle Jukola

Credits: Markus Hyvärinen

Man in a red shirt and red jacket standing outside looking towards the camera with mossy rocks in the background.

Arctic Circle Jukola in Rovaniemi

We spoke with Sami Leinonen the Secretary General of Jukola Relay and Sanna Kärkkäinen, Managing Director in Visit Rovaniemi about hosting a relay event and Rovaniemi as a destination.
Credits: Markus Hyvärinen

What is Jukola Relay?

Sami Leinonen: The Jukola Relay is the world’s largest orienteering relay race. The start time is around 11 pm, so the race goes on through the night. Jukola coincides with the women’s race, the Venla Relay. On an average year, more than 18 000 orienteers take part, making it Finland’s largest amateur sporting event. When you include the companions, carers, media and spectators who stay up all night with the contestants, Jukola attracts a crowd upwards of 50 000 people.

We had a total of 12 500 participants from around the world this year. There were teams from Denmark, Sweden and Germany, among others.

Jukola is held in a different location each year. We’ve had the event in Rovaniemi once before, in 1980. This time, the corona pandemic extended the preparations to a whopping eight years. Originally, the race was slated for June 2020, but we pushed it back a year and then postponed further until August 2021. This may have been the first autumn race we’ve ever had.

Man in a red shirt and red jacket smiling towards the camera with trees in the background.
Sami Leinonen
Credits: Markus Hyvärinen

Why was Rovaniemi chosen as the location?

Sanna Kärkkäinen: Rovaniemi is a centrally located Arctic Capital in Lapland and a great venue for events. Rovaniemi is easy to reach by plane or train and the town offers a fantastic variety of accommodation, restaurant services and event venues. We are surrounded by beautiful nature and there are so many ways to experience it on guided tours all year round.

Rovaniemi is also known as the Official Hometown of Santa Claus. Experiencing the Northern Lights is surely a dream that many visitors share – they can be seen from September till April.

Woman in glasses and red blazer standing against a railing in a venue looking towards the camera.
Sanna Kärkkäinen
Credits: Markus Hyvärinen

What more did Jukola have in store this year?

Sami Leinonen: Tons of people came to experience the Jukola spirit as volunteers, supporters and spectators. The Mäntyvaara Race Centre had a giant screen where people could follow the race around the clock. The Arctic Circle Jukola venue was like a small city. You could enjoy the race as well as great food, shopping and the serenity of the forest.

Traditionally, tents are standard accommodation. One of our partners, the Finnish Defence Forces, set up 660 tents for 16 people each. The additional tent sites came to a total of 1100. While tent culture is part of the event, many chose to stay at some of the fine hotels in Rovaniemi as well.

How did you account for health safety?

Sami Leinonen: We worked with health officials to create a meticulous plan. They ensured that the measures we were taking were enough to minimise the risk of contagion. Making it happen in real life also required diligence from our participants and audience as well as support from the media. People had clearly listened to our instructions and took them to heart. This is how we managed to avoid congestion around mealtimes, for instance. Health safety was maintained throughout the event.

How was the environmental impact of Jukola managed?

Sami Leinonen: Finland is committed to being a sustainable travel destination. As such, we also had to do our part and weigh our impact. Our unique, clean nature is something we all want to preserve. We created a team to account for these matters.

Was the event a success?

Sami Leinonen: Considering the circumstances, I would say the event went very well. Our course masters did a marvellous job and the terrain was challenging enough. One of the draws of Jukola is that the world’s best orienteers are going through the same course as the amateurs and even first-timers.

The event was organised by Ounasvaara Ski Club and it was a gigantic effort for everyone. The City of Rovaniemi, our partners and stakeholders also had important parts to play.

Originally, the reason for organising the Jukola Relay was to raise funds for the sports club. However, it’s clear that the number of participants suffered this year, and that means some financial scrutiny is in store.

Sanna Kärkkäinen: The feedback from the contestants and visitors was warm and positive. Jukola Relay Race was a joint effort with Ounasvaara Ski Club and the City of Rovaniemi. The long-awaited Jukola Relay became a symbol of coming together when the pandemic eased up a bit.

Arctic Circle Jukola Relay Race

Date: August 21–22, 2021

• Organiser: Ounasvaara Ski Club, City of Rovaniemi
• Participants: 2214 teams and 12 504 competitors

Rovaniemi

• The capital of Finnish Lapland, located on the Arctic Circle
• Residents: Greater Rovaniemi 63 000
• University of Lapland, University of Applied Sciences and Vocational College
• 1500 companies