Former speed skater Mika Poutala is the Chair of the Finland NOC AC and shares how it used the USD 10,000 grant to create an online programme for its athletes.

The funding was used to organise four live streams, which proved a huge success and could go on to shape future events.

Find out how you could benefit from the grants available for NOC ACs and how to apply by clicking here.

I’m a four-time Olympic speed skater from Finland. I announced my retirement after PyeongChang 2018 and immediately joined the Finland NOC AC, where I’m now the Chair.

The Olympic Solidarity Activity Grant was great news for us. In the two years that I’ve been a part of the AC, we’ve struggled financially and consequently haven’t been able to organise the events we’ve wanted to – so I was instantly really delighted to hear about the grant.

We didn’t hesitate to apply, as we knew this extra support would allow us to reach more of our athletes and become more active in our responsibilities.

Topics that matter

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our initial thought was to organise seminars and workshops in an Olympic Training Centre. We were forced to adapt and switched the programme to online, which worked even better for us.

We organised four online live streams on four topics that we believe matter most to our athletes today. These topics were personal branding and social media; athletes as responsible influencers; finance, business and entrepreneurship; and career transition.

In the days leading up to each event, we asked our athletes: what do you want to hear and know more about? We took a lot of questions and delivered these to our chosen panel who led the live stream, which included a number of experts and athlete guests. Viewers were given the opportunity to ask the panel live questions, too.

Athlete-to-athlete programme

The special thing about our programme was the athlete-to-athlete aspect. One of the most popular comments we received with regards to feedback on our live streams was that the information was delivered in such a way that it was easy to understand, because much of it came from those who knew the audience best: athletes themselves.

Each of our live streams featured a handful of active and former athletes who offered insight and shared their own experiences on the topic. For example, in our first live stream, on personal branding and social media, the panel included karateka Titta Keinänen, former snowboarder Eero Ettala and ice hockey player Annina Rajahuhta.

When examples come from someone who is talking from experience, it’s so much simpler to appreciate and relate to what’s being said. We believe it’s important our athletes hear from and receive first-hand information from other athletes.

The Olympic Solidarity Activity Grant was great news for us. In the two years that I’ve been a part of the AC, we’ve struggled financially and consequently haven’t been able to organise the events we’ve wanted to – so I was instantly really delighted to hear about the grant.

MIKA POUTALA

Building awareness of the Athletes’ Commission

We found that many athletes in Finland didn’t even know that there is an Athletes’ Commission that has information and support to offer. So this programme has not only been helpful in offering education to our athletes, but it’s brought so much awareness to the Commission. At the beginning of every event, we delivered a small speech about our work and the support we provide – and this has definitely boosted our visibility in the athletes’ world.

We also recorded our live streams to make them available to those who were not able to attend, so the number of athletes we’ve been able to reach has been far bigger than we imagined.

Shaping the future

As well as our athletes, everyone on our Athletes’ Commission has gained a lot from this programme. The online streams have been a great pilot for us in terms of what we could do next, and how we could incorporate what we’ve learned into future events.

We’d like to introduce a mentorship programme and with the success of our recent live streams, this could be something we also do online. The digital world could now become a big part of our work over the next 12 months – and we have the grant to thank in being able to organise such a special programme.

NOC Athletes’ Commissions can now apply to Olympic Solidarity for an annual grant worth up to USD 10,000, which could create new opportunities for you to support your athletes. To find out more, click here.