A Finnish footballer has declined the opportunity to join a warm-weather training camp in Qatar because he is concerned about the host country’s human rights record.
Riku Riski, an attacking midfielder who plays for HJK Helsinki, told Helsingin Sanomat that he felt he could not play in Qatar.
"I got the call and after that I discussed the issue with the team’s fixer and head coach," HS quoted Riski as saying. "The reasons for my decision were ethical ones, and the values to which I want to stay true. In my opinion that was important."
He added that the national team coach Markku Kanerva and the team’s fixer Lennart Rangel understood his decision, but disagreed with it.
Qatar has been criticised for the way it uses migrant labour for construction projects, including the eight stadia expected to be built for the 2022 World Cup tournament.
In September last year Amnesty said that the country’s 'kafala' system of permits for migrant workers left them beholden to unscrupulous employers who withheld wages, charged fees for placing workers and illegally retained workers' passports.
NGOs have criticised Qatari authorities for failing to properly investigate and record the deaths of construction workers during the building of World Cup facilities.
The Finnish FA faced a deluge of criticism over the training camp after news of Riski’s decision broke. The FA confirmed on Twitter that it paid all its expenses for the training camp, and was not subsidised by Qatar for the trip.
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FA chair Ari Lahti, who also chairs Kuopio-based KuPS and led the ill-fated effort to bring the Guggenheim franchise to Finland, said he felt Riski’s decision was 'silly'.
"It is of course his decision," Lahti added. "National team activities are voluntary, nobody can be compelled [to play]. But from an ethical perspective it feels strange that I am here with Nordic union leaders and football association chairs drawing attention to the same issue as Riku. In that sense Riku’s decision seems silly."
Finland’s national team is in Qatar for warm weather training, taking a squad of players from clubs in Nordic leagues that are currently on a winter break. They beat Sweden 1-0 on Tuesday night thanks to a goal from Eero Markkanen and will play Estonia on Friday.
Riski started out at TPS Turku and has previously represented Widzew Lodz in Poland, Rosenborg in Norway and IFK Gothenburg in Sweden, among others. He has 26 caps for Finland.