Rinkball is a sport similar to ice Hockey. The general concept is the same: five players (three offense, two defense) and one goalie per team on the ice, and players score goals by getting the ball into the opposing team’s net. Penalties are similar as well: the offending side loses a player for two to five minutes resulting in a 5-on-4 advantage for the other team, etc.

There are some important differences, however.

First, the ball. Hockey requires a puck, whereas rinkball players use a hard, rubber ball. The equipment that players wear is quite different. Rinkball is more strict in some ways (there is no bodychecking or even lifting sticks allowed), but there is more freedom in other areas (offsides and icing do not exist).

Then there's the stick, rinkball sticks only come in one length, give or take a few centimetres. Measuring up to be just over a metre long (mine is, the rinkball stick is about 2/3rds that of a Hockey stick, making it a lot more difficult to shoot, pass, and handle the ball. This also means there’s a discrepancy in skill: short players have the edge in offense (stick-handling and shooting), and tall players dominate defensively (poke-checking and blocking shots or passes).

Goalies, like everything else in rinkball, are generally the same as in Hockey but with one exception: They don’t have a stick. Instead, their non-glove hand has... another glove! This means they can’t handle the puck (er, ball, I suppose), but rather throw the ball to another player, as long as it doesn’t go past the center line without touching either a player or the boards first. The lack of stick also makes scoring between the legs much easier than in Hockey.

Most penalties have been imported from Hockey: tripping, high sticking, interference, and so on. But if you lift another player’s stick to take the ball away, or shoot the ball out of the ice area, for example, a sort of “minor infraction” is assessed. This is when rinkball takes a page not from Hockey’s book, but soccer’s. The ball is placed in the nearest circle, corner, or another predetermined place on the ice surface, and a free shot is awarded to the opposing team. Like a free kick in soccer, defending players may line up to block the shot.


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.)