The next story is about a recent controversy that arose in Estonia regarding the number of audience at Estonian football games and how they are counted. One of the most filling and shocking controversies stemming from what is a simple lack of organization in a country where almost everything is organized, simple and in line with the country famous digitalization of all services.
It is actually an old controversy, however the topic got hotter last week after an open article from Delfi journalist, Märt Roosna, following what he deemed a low attendance at a Estonian Cup semifinal between two of the biggest clubs in the country, Flora and Kalju.
As a preamble, it shall be mentioned that ticketing system at single games is organized by the clubs. However, the official numbers of audience are counted by the Estonian FA.
It is not rare that, after the club has communicated a certain number of people attending the game, the FA corrects those on the basis of visual evidence. We will soon show what kind of visual evidence we are talking about.
It usually happens that a club communicates a bigger number than the official one released by the FA.
The FA official numbers go to contribute into the attendance totals and averages during each week. Additionally, it helps awarding, at the end of season, the club with best average attendance in top flight.
You can find these tables here at the bottom.
How to read: ‘Voorud’, totals – kokku - and averages – keskmine - per week; ‘Kodumängud’, home games with totals and average; ‘Pealtvaatajad võõrsil mängudel’, audience at away games (NB! It does not count the number of travelling fans, but how many people were at the away game of the given club).
ESTONIAN FOOTBALL FANS, ARE YOU MADE OF SUGAR?
The big rumble started when Märt Roosna called upon Estonian fans to come out of their living rooms and actually follow the Estonian football games, especially a big fixture as Flora-Kalju. He initially wrote his article on the basis of a 200-people attendance reported by Estonian media sources as Delfi, Soccernet and Õhtuleht.
Later on, the official number was reported as being 438. Roosna apologized in a note however, in his opinion, it did not make much difference regarding the objectively little attendance for a big fixture.
For those who think it is not such a big difference, we shall mention that Estonian top-flight average attendance travels at the moment around 325. An overall good trend considering that last season final figure was 256. At the same time, we shall also mention that the game was played at the A.LeCoq Arena, a 9,000-strong capacity and we can agree that 200 people do not make such a difference in a big empty stadium.
The weather did not help. Flurries and wind hit Tallinn that evening making the perspective of spending one hour and thirty minutes (plus extra time, which eventually was not necessary) in such weather less than attractive. Hence Roosna used the famous Estonian question: are you made of sugar? – referred to people afraid of getting wet when outside pours.
It is true Estonians are great fans of outdoor activities with any weather (‘there’s not such thing as bad weather, but bad clothing,’ they love to repeat especially to sceptical southerners as I am) however it seems they make a glad exception when comes to football.
Roosna’s piece is actually encouraging people to attend football and under this point of view I find his point much agreeable: people, move your a*** to the ground!
Roosna’s capital sins are two: he used a wrong figure and he is a basketball fan.
FOOTBALL VS. BASKETBALL
I am not a great fan of basketball. I visited my first game ever some weeks ago just for trying something different. It was a semifinal game between title-stockpilers Kalev/Cramo and TYCO Rapla in Tallinn’s Saku Suurhall, a temple of basketball dedicated also to concerts (and once a year amateur futsal for charity events).
I loved the fact it was warm, sheltered and hassle-free. Obviously, after the second quarter, my interest got lost since I know little about this game which in my opinion resembles futsal.
I only understood it must not be a great level since the many rebounds on three-point attempts (forgive me if my jargon is wrong).
However, I felt I didn’t waste time. Would I visit again? Maybe the finals, but I don’t think I would commit myself for an entire season. It’s a matter of tastes. At the same time, I do not hate basketball. I simply love football. They say love burns more calories than hate.
If there was a fight between the two sports in Estonia, I only discovered in the past days.
When you fight a war, you do with the heavy weapons. And the Estonian football entered the battlefield with the heaviest weapon possible: Estonian FA president, Mr. Aivar Pohlak.
In a long Q&A with Soccernet (which was rather a short question and a long answer, check here and prepare a strong cup of coffee...), the football boss explained how the Estonian FA reads the attendances at games and launched an heavy accusation at the basketball FA that we can sum up as follows: you’re forging your numbers.
It should be mentioned that Roosna’s article never attacked or mentioned the Estonian FA or the organizing club of the Cup semifinal (FC Flora) as responsible of the alleged little turn-out. His criticism was rather towards the football fans in general. And he did not even get at the methods used for accounting the audience at the venues.
‘We went to Tartu in the past days,’ told Pohlak to Soccernet ‘to watch Rock vs. Kalev/Cramo final series game. The official number of attendance was 2000. We used the same technique and method we use for accounting the actual number of attendance at a football game and it was 1145 people.’
THE ‘TECHNIQUE AND METHOD’
The fact that the president of the Estonian FA goes to a basketball game to check the actual attendance is per se a piece of news and it adds spice and laughter to what looks like a useless war of numbers in a country of 1.3 million people where numbers are small themselves for obvious reasons.
However, for those not familiar with the ‘technique and method’, we shall all see what it consists of.
Basically, the FA are literally counting the heads at the ground one by one.
It is done with picture evidence taken at a certain point of the game (sometimes around 30 minutes since kick-off) and a red spot is placed on each spectator’s head. ‘The margin of error is around 10%-7%,’ told today Mihkel Uiboleht, Estonian FA press official, to the same Delfi adding that it is obvious that they cannot be sure that all people are sitting there in the very moment they shoot.
If you don’t understand the method, this is the picture speaking better than any word.
The same method was used at the Rock-Kalev game mentioned by Aivar Pohlak. This is the picture taken by the Estonian FA mission at the basketball game.
I don’t question the reliability of the ‘technique and method’, even though it has always put a smile on my face when I thought about the poor lad having to do this, pardon my French, anal job. However it is quite peculiar that in a country known as e-Stonia this is actually the only method they could come up with.
Märt Roosna said, in a joking way, that he challenges on a duel Jaanus Pruuli, FC Flora commerce director, who doubted that he is a friend of football.
We are big friends of (Estonian) football, however we also like logics.
Please Estonian FA, do something logical and rigorous to count how many people are ACTUALLY entering a football ground. We have a lot of resources in Estonia, human and technological, to make that happen.
Our simplest solution would be a smart and united ticketing system with bar codes in the same fashion as the Piletilevi Zebra code used at National Team games. With the help of optical readers, we can certainly know how many people exactly have turned out during a given weekend. And we will finally free the Estonian FA employee from his/her ungrateful task.