Fans continue to question Bayern Munich's silence on Qatar

Bayern fans have long been protesting the club's links to Qatar. Banners criticizing the team's management were often displayed at games before the Bundesliga was suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak (Reuters)
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Updated 27 March 2020

Fans continue to question Bayern Munich's silence on Qatar

  • Bayern is sponsored by state-owned carrier Qatar Airways
  • Fans are unhappy with the apparent reticence to address workers’ conditions

BERLIN: Even though the protests have stopped amid the coronavirus outbreak, many Bayern Munich fans are still pushing for their club to take its Qatari sponsor to task for human rights abuses in the country.

Bayern is sponsored by state-owned carrier Qatar Airways and has been holding mid-season training camps in the Gulf country since 2011.

“It’s clear that the situation isn’t as it should be for workers in Qatar. Enough NGOs have complained that workers are dying in terrible conditions, that human rights are not being upheld,” Bayern fan Jonas Hagemeier told The Associated Press on Friday. “It’s not really a soccer issue as such, but an issue for society. Just we come into it because we are directly linked to it through FC Bayern.”

Hagemeier, a member of the Bayern Club No. 12 supporters group, said fans are unhappy with the apparent reticence to address workers’ conditions or highlight their plight.

“In the end, the club says it’s doing a lot but it does nothing,” Hagemeier said. “It damages the club’s reputation if it’s openly dealing with a country that does not recognize human rights, and if it’s constantly criticized for that.”

Bayern fans have long been protesting the club's links to Qatar. Banners criticizing the team's management were often displayed at games before the Bundesliga was suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

About 150 Bayern fans attended an event called "Qatar, human rights and FC Bayern” in Munich on Jan. 16. A podium discussion featured two migrant workers from Qatar, human rights activist Nicholas McGeehan of Fair/Square Projects and journalist Benjamin Best. The fans watched a documentary that Best filmed for German broadcaster WDR, documenting Nepalese workers' exploitation in Qatar and coffins arriving back in Nepal following their deaths.

Though invited, no representative from Bayern attended the meeting. Instead, a team jersey was placed on an empty chair to represent the club. Organizers received from no response from the club after the meeting, either.

One of the fans who attended the meeting, a member of the ultra group Munich’s Red Pride, was banned by Bayern from all games earlier this month, apparently for helping to display a banner protesting Monday night games at a reserve team game in February.

“There is a strong suspicion FC Bayern is using this banner to silence a critical fan whose group has constantly objected to the club’s engagement with Qatar. This cannot be accepted,” Club No. 12 said in a statement.

The campaign to highlight Bayern’s relationship with the gulf country was given added weight on March 11 when a group of Munich city councilors asked the club to urge Qatar to release detailed data on the deaths of migrant workers and to "commission an independent investigation into these deaths.”

An open letter from the councilors to Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter, a Bayern club member, urged the team “to make a commitment to comply with human rights standards in its business relationships.”

The councilors noted that Bayern receives 10 million euros ($11 million) a year from its five-year sponsorship arrangement with Qatar Airways. That deal was signed in 2018, replacing Bayern’s previous arrangement with Doha Airport.

The club is also linked to Qatar though Volkswagen subsidiary Audi, which has an 8.33% stake in the club. Qatar Holding LLC holds 14.6% of the shares in Volkswagen.

“Qatar uses the influence of soccer to adorn itself with the positive image of international clubs. The country has invested hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in soccer clubs all across Europe,” wrote the councilors, who criticized Bayern’s management for being “silent” on the issue.

Qatar, which is due to host the World Cup in 2022, is also financially tied to European clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

Fair/Square Projects welcomed the councilors’ call. The London-based human rights company has been waiting for a response since writing to Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on Feb. 5 asking for the club to follow Liverpool’s example in calling for steps that would significantly enhance worker protection in the state.

“We believe it is highly probable that there have been more than 3,000 unexplained migrant worker deaths since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup in December 2010,” wrote McGeehan, the director at Fair/Square Projects.

Days after Bayern fans held banners protesting the club’s dealings with Qatar in the last game before the Bundesliga was suspended, World Cup organizers issued their annual workers’ welfare progress report on March 12. It said there were “a number of improvements” in the period from February to December 2019, including “timely payment of salaries, improved ethical recruitment practices, improved living conditions and enhanced health and safety initiatives.”

But in February, Human Rights Watch documented one employer who did not pay workers for five months, saying it showed “a systemic failure” that affects all employers in Qatar.

“Qatar has passed some laws to protect migrant workers, but the authorities seem more interested in promoting these minor reforms in the media than in making them work,” said Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at HRW.

The club did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Separately, Bayern recently launched a “Red against Racism” campaign to combat racism in soccer. But McGeehan, who previously worked for HRW, questioned the club’s motivations.

“It's laudable that Bayern is taking intolerance and racism seriously, especially in the current climate," he said. "That said, this again highlights the tension between the values the club claims to espouse and its links to Qatar.”


Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

Updated 03 August 2020

Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

  • Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining
  • There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play

DUBAI: There may have been no football in Saudi Arabia for five months but the mind games are in full flow as ahead of the crucial top of the table clash in the Saudi Pro League on Wednesday, Al Hilal boss Razvan Lucescu has told Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria that the pressure is all on him.

In the first game since March when the season was suspended due to coronavirus, Al Nassr in second, six points behind the leaders with eight games to play, can’t afford any slip-ups in the Riyadh Derby if they are to successfully defend the title they won last season.

“We are six points ahead and the opponent is under more pressure as they know they have to reduce the difference,” Lucescu told reporters at the pre-match press conference to the eagerly-awaited Riyadh Derby that will take place with no fans in the King Fahd International Stadium.

That points gap means that the smart money is still on Al Hilal to take league title number 16. Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining.

Not only that but Al Hilal have looked to be in better shape than their challengers in recent warm-up games with a 2-2 draw with second tier side Al-Shoalah following a 4-0 win over Al Riyadh.

“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time,”  Lucescu, who took Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League title in 2019, added. “The league suspension has been long and it has not been easy but we have focused on the mental side of things and aim to return strongly.”

The Romanian has been boosted by the return to fitness of Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo who has recovered from last week’s knock. With the league’s leading goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis signing a contract extension in July, Lucescu is in a positive frame of mind.

“We know the way they play and we know that it will be a tough game …but everyone is affected by the long pause and we all start at the same level. We are just going to take it step by step and stay focused.”

There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play. The former Porto star will be needed as fellow defenders Omar Hawsawi and Abdullah Madu could miss out through injury.

While Hilal may have the points gap, in terms of the personal battles between the two coaches, Vitoria has the upper hand. The Portuguese boss has yet to lose in three meetings with his Romanian rival in big games in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia.

In a final play-off to reach the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Vitoria led Benfica to a 5-2 aggregate victory over PAOK, coached by Lucescu. After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon, the Portuguese powerhouse won 4-1 in Greece.

Earlier this season, Al Nassr inflicted Al Hilal’s only loss in the league this season so far with a 2-1 win at Hilal’s King Saud International Stadium in October with Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah getting both goals.

A similar result at Al Nassr’s home on Wednesday would breathe new life into the title race. Vitoria has stressed that recent friendly games were a chance to try out tactics and give players a run-out. Losses against Al Raed and Al Fateh however have given the Portuguese boss much to think about.

At the other end of the table.  Al Ittihad are just three places of the bottom of this 16-team league and in danger of the drop. The two-time AFC Champions League winners face a game on Tuesday at mid-table Abha where victory would provide the Jeddah giants with some much-needed breathing space.

The race for third and a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League is also a fierce one. Al Wehda are currently in the driving seat and host Al Shabab while Al Ahli in fourth and just two points behind host the struggling Al Hazem. Al Faisaly, Al-Taawon and Al Raed also have an outside chance of booking a place in next year’s continental competition.

All eyes will, however, be on the top of the table clash as Hilal can take a huge step towards the title. “I am happy with how the players have returned from the suspension and I am confident in  their abilities,”said Lucescu. “All we care about is winning the next match and that will help us win the league.”