Former pro hockey player Sean Bergenheim is planning to swap pucks for politics at the upcoming general election, as he makes a bid to become a member of parliament.
Bergenheim is running as a Swedish People’s Party candidate on the Uusimaa list, and hopes his name recognition could tempt floating voters from other parties who share similar policy outlooks on education and the environment to vote for SFP/RKP instead.
“I have wanted to work a lot on environmental issues, so that’s really important for me, so I could see if someone was voting for the Greens I could attract those voters. Also I think Kokoomus [the National Coalition Party] is one of the parties that I would be able to attract some voters from” he tells News Now Finland after launching his campaign.
Bergenheim enjoyed a stellar career in North America, playing more than 500 NHL games during his time with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild. He retired in 2018 after spending seasons in Switzerland and Sweden, and now lives in Porvoo with his family and six-year old son.
It’s his deep sense of family which has spurred Bergenheim into politics, hoping to make a difference in the things that matter most to him.
“I find it very motivating to work for our future, and getting into politics is something I’ve had in mind for a long long time, but never really wanted to speak about politics when I was an athlete. I didn’t find it the right thing to do, in my opinion, during my career” he says.
His platform includes more support for after-school activities for children, to take the pressure off working parents. And that doesn’t just mean sports, but study groups or music and dance lessons too.
“The system needs to work better than it does now so that families have more time together in the evening. We could have a lot more activities after school, different clubs, more funding for that” says Bergenheim, who retired to Finland in the spring of 2018.
Finland’s long history of athletes in parliament
While Sean Bergenheim might end up being the first former NHL player to win a seat in the Finnish parliament, he’s certainly not the first hockey player.
Jyväskylä MP Sinuhe Wallinheimo (NCP) was elected in 2011 and 2015 after a career as a goaltender that took him from American collegiate hockey to the the mid-level professional East Coast Hockey League; and on to the SM-Liiga where he played for Rauman Lukko and JYP, as well as Dynamo Moscow in the KHL before switching to a new career in politics.
The current chair of the Christian Democrats, Sari Essayah, is a former World and European Champion speed walker who also made the jump from sports to politics. Essayah won gold at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, and gold also in the the 1994 European Championships in front of a home crowd in Helsinki – both times in the 10km race. Her seven Finnish national records still stand after more than two decades.
Another European gold medalist Juha Täätäinen served as a member of parliament for the Finns Party from 2011 until 2015. His wins in the 5000 and 10,000 metre races came at the 1971 Championships, also held at Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium.
‘Flying Finn’ Lasse Virén won four gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games and had a long career as a politician for the National Coalition Party from 1999 to 2007, and again from 2010 to 2011.
Bergenheim’s voter appeal
With the general election just eight weeks away, Sean Bergenheim’s campaign is already in full swing.
Just 24 hours after announcing his SFP/RKP candidacy Bergenheim was joined by party leader Anna-Maja Henriksson for a meet-and-greet at a Porvoo shopping centre.
The Swedish People’s Party has a few better-known names on its roster, but only 9 seats in parliament and 4.3% of the vote at the last election.
Bergenheim, an affable Swedish-speaking Finn, is well aware that his name recognition is a gift to SFP/RKP leadership, and gives the party a celebrity shot in the arm on the campaign trail.
He’s modest about his chances of election success, but already mastered the art of the political soundbite.
“I really don’t expect anything. I just hope to reach people so that they see what my values are, and what I want to work for. And I hope that people will kind of feel the same, that these issues are the same issues that appeal to them, and they will vote for me, and I’ll work really really hard for them”.