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Finnish footballer boycotts Qatar match over human rights

Helsinki (AFP) – Finnish forward Riku Riski missed Tuesday’s friendly win against Sweden in Qatar after pulling out of the team’s winter training trip to Doha in protest at the Gulf state’s human rights record.

Finland beat Sweden 1-0 in Doha thanks to a first-half goal by Eero Markkanen, one of two friendlies the team will play in Qatar this week.

But 29-year-old Riski, who has represented his country more than 20 times, was not there after telling Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that his conscience would not let him travel to the 2022 World Cup host nation.

“The reasons for my decision were ethics and values, which I want to follow and hold on to. I felt that was important,” Riski told the paper.

He said he had discussed his decision with Finland’s head coach Markku Kanerva.

The 54-year-old coach confirmed after the match that he had discussed the situation with Riski, whose concerns centered on the human rights situation in Qatar and the plight of workers helping build World Cup venues and facilities.

“In a way I was surprised but I had a long chat with him, he explained me the reasons and I accepted this,” Kanerva told AFP in Doha, who said no other players had voiced similar concerns.

He added that the decision to train and play in Qatar had proved controversial in Finland.

“Hopefully they will write something about this game as well,” added the coach.

Qatar has come under intense criticism for human rights violations and abusive labour conditions for the many migrant workers who are building infrastructure ahead of the tournament. 

In November the pressure group Amnesty International said migrant workers in the tiny Gulf country were still being exploited or going unpaid despite reforms promised by Qatari authorities.

In an earlier statement released by the Finnish Football Association, Kanerva said Riski was still in the running for a spot in the squad for the tour which will include a second friendly against Estonia on Friday.

“This camp is an extremely important try-out ahead of the coming tournaments and Riku deserved his place on it,” Kanerva said in his statement. 

“Neither I nor the team manager Lennart Wangel have taken a position on Riku’s reasons (for his decision) — they were strong enough for him and therefore they must be respected,” he added.

Riski is currently a striker with the Finnish club HJK Helsinki. He has previously played for clubs in Poland, Sweden and Scotland.

Finland, ranked 58th in the world, have never qualified for a World Cup finals.

The camp in Qatar is part of the preparation for the qualification campaign for Euro 2020, which Finland begin in March against Italy.

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