Football captain speaks out about controversial Qatar training camp

Tim Sparv says he agrees with the sentiments of a team mate who declined an invitation to attend the trip due to "ethical reaons".

Finnish captain Tim Sparv plays club football for FC Midtjylland in Denmark / Credit: @fcmidtjylland Instagram

The captain of the Finnish men’s football national team has made his first comments about a recent winter training trip to Qatar.

Tim Sparv wrote a lengthy social media post in which he says he knows the country has problems, but he doesn’t know if he could make the same decision as team mate Riku Riski and decline to accompany the rest of the squad to their training camp.

Earlier this month Riski revealed that he decided not to go to Qatar because of “ethical reasons” about the Gulf state’s human rights record, in particular when it comes to preparations for the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

Qatar has come under repeated criticism from international human rights organisations for the conditions of workers building World Cup facilities. Groups like Human Rights Watch say the workers are forced to toil long hours for little pay in searing summer temperatures; housed in slum conditions; and have their rights restricted. The International Trades Union Confederation ITUC says more than 1200 workers have died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup back in 2010.

Tim Sparv’s reaction 

Sparv, who plays club football for Danish side FC Midtjylland, says the players know all about Qatar’s reputation.

“We, the players, are well aware that we’ve been based in a country that has its flaws. Homosexuality is illegal, Qatar’s bid to host World Cup 2022 is mired in controversy, migrant workers are not being treated fairly and freedom of speech is limited. We don’t, of cause support this” says the 31-year old Huuhkajat – Eagle Owl – captain.

“I salute Riku Riski for his beliefs and his courage. With his decision he’s forced every one of us to question ourselves and our motives for being in a country like Qatar. If I’m honest, I don’t know if I could do the same” writes Sparv, who goes on to say that he doesn’t have a different opinion than Riski, he agrees with him, but that the chance to play for Finland has been a “highlight” of his career.

“It’s impossible to describe in words how proud I am of captaining my country and I would find it extremely difficult to say ‘no’ when I get called up. I think many of my teammates feel the same” says Spray in his post.

Social media response to the post

There has been some largely positive reaction to Tim Sparv’s post on social media.

“It is always the responsibility of sports leaders to take responsibility for decision. Players should not be placed in such a situation. Hopefully your text will be read carefully, not just in Finland and the public debate that has taken place will give rise to more careful ethical choices in the future” writes former sports minister Paavo Arhinmäki (Left).

“I think Finnish football needs persons like you, Tim! Finland do. Well, the whole world do. Not only because of WHAT you say, but because of your courage and way TO say what you think. To give another point of view without saying anyone else is wrong. Hat off!”, says another Twitter user.

However one commentator wrote “glad to hear thousands of dead immigrant workers is a issue of nuance for you. really mate it is really black and white, either you go our shut the fuck up”.

Sparv replied “we might not always agree but it seems to me that the majority of you can at least appreciate that a player takes part in the debate”.