Footballer refuses Qatar trip over human rights concerns

The HJK player cites "ethical reasons" for not joining the national team camp in the Gulf country.

File picture of Finnish footballer Riku Riski / Credit: HJK

A Finnish footballer has refused an invitation to join the national team on a winter trip to Qatar, citing ethical reasons for his decision.

Riku Riski, who plays for Helsinki’s HJK club, was invited to take part in the training camp, but told Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that he decided not to go.

“My decision was made for ethical reasons, and values that I wanted to stick to. I think it was important [to do so]” Riski told the newspaper.

“‘I was pretty clear; I didn’t want to go” the 29-year old said. The training camp would have also offered him a chance to show his skills to selectors in friendly games against Sweden and Estonia.

Riski has represented his country more than two dozen times on international duties, and previously played at clubs in Turku, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Scotland.

Qatar’s football rights record

Qatar has come under repeated criticism from international human rights organisations for the conditions of workers building facilities for the 2022 Fifa World Cup. 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.

“Qatar has made some progress in reforming its labor system in response to international criticism, but Amnesty International recently issued a report saying workers involved in building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup are still being exploited” says Sebastian Abbot, author of The Away Game, a book chronicling Qatar’s massive search for football’s next superstars across Africa.

National team reaction

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Finnish Football Union Palloliitto stressed that Qatari authorities had no role in the training camp funding.

“The Football Association pays for the trip in its entirety – the Qatar State or the Qatari Football Association does not participate in any costs or offer any other benefits” says the statement.

The estimated €100,000 cost of the camp is being funded from the team’s existing budget.

National team manager Markku Kanerva told Finnish media outlets that participation in training camps is voluntary, and that he respects Riski’s decision.