Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä told Helsingin Sanomat that an incident at Vaasa harbour on Saturday raises strong suspicions about racial profiling. Customs officials at the port pulled aside dark-skinned players of local football team VPS and asked for their identification.
VPS midfielder Sebastian Strandvall said in a tweet that the team was returning home from a match in Sweden by ferry when all of the team's six black players were stopped by Customs officials.
"I’m astonished by the Customs handling of the case. I assume that the officials only knew the skin colour of the person they were looking for. That’s why they stopped all black men," Pimiä told HS.
However, Finland’s Aliens Act forbids ethnic profiling, where officials such as police stop individuals based on their ethnicity, race or religion.
"We should finally learn! If the Customs were searching for a white man with blond hair, would they have stopped all men fitting that description?" Pimiä asked.
According to Strandvall, reactions within the team were mixed.
"Three of the six players who got stopped are Finnish citizens and they seemed to be more in shock. The other three were more furious. It's as if they should have been used to that kind of treatment," he added.
Customs director Sami Rakshit told Helsingin Sanomat that the agency was looking for a specific person on the ferry. Because the officials did not have a photo of the person, they had to inspect the players' identification documents, Rakshit said.
The players were not told why they were stopped, HS reported.
"What we do is not of concern to outsiders. We did not carry out customs audits on these players; we only asked to see proof of identity. There's no reason to believe that any wrongdoing occurred," Rakshit said.
Strandvall told Iltalehti he received a call from Rakshit on Sunday apologising for what had happened.