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.”


The 10 best Arab footballers to play in Europe

Updated 01 June 2020

The 10 best Arab footballers to play in Europe

  • As football takes tentative steps back toward normality, we take a look at some of the best Arab talent to make their mark in Europe’s top leagues

DUBAI: Germany’s Bundesliga is back. Spain’s La Liga, Serie A in Italy and the English Premier League, and maybe even the Champions League, are set to follow soon.

This means the likes of Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez and others will once again be on our screens chasing some of the game’s top prizes.

As football takes tentative steps back toward normality, we take a look at some of the best Arab talent to make their mark in Europe’s top leagues.

10. Ali Al-Habsi

The only player from the Gulf to make the list, and one of a handful to try his luck abroad, Ali Al-Habsi is nothing short of an icon in his native Oman. 

Having started at local club Al-Mudhaiba, his career has seen him play for Norway’s Lyn Oslo before a move to England and stints at Bolton, Wigan (where he won an FA Cup medal despite not playing in the 2013 final against Manchester City), Brighton and Reading. A two-year spell in the Saudi Professional League with Al-Hilal was followed by a return to England and West Brom, where he currently remains at the age of 38.

Admired and loved everywhere he has gone, and a role model and hero in his country and across the Gulf.

9. Mido

Many see this as a career that promised more than it delivered with the much-traveled Egypt international perceived not to have made the most of his undoubted talent during his European journey. Still, he has a track record that few Arab footballers can match, with spells of varying success at Ajax, Marseille, Roma, Tottenham, Middlesbrough and West Ham, among others.

After starting his career in Cairo with Zamalek, Mido made his big move to Europe by joining Genk in Belgium, but really caught the eye at Ajax, where he partnered a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack, and won the Eredivisie title in 2001-02. 

A turbulent international career brought 51 caps, but he will mostly be remembered by European audiences as a maverick talent with a nomadic streak that never truly settled at any of his clubs.

8. Hakim Ziyech

To many football fans, Hakim Ziyech only came to wider attention in the past two years, but at 27 he is already a veteran of eight years of top-flight football in Holland’s Eredivisie. 

After spending two years each at Heerenveen and FC Twente, he truly blossomed after joining Ajax in 2016.

Despite representing the Netherlands at age group levels, the Dutch-born Hakimi eventually chose to play senior international football for Morocco, and in 2018 was part of the team that acquitted itself so well at the World Cup in Russia.

In 2018-29 he delivered some outstanding displays as Ajax progressed to the Champions League semifinal — where they were ultimately beaten in heartbreaking fashion by Tottenham — and also won the Eredivisie title. His performances against Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as his consistency in the Dutch top flight, quickly marked him out as one of  Europe’s hottest prospects. Chelsea emerged as the big winners in the race to sign Ziyech, paying €40 million for his services as of next season.

Holland’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

7. Achraf Hakimi

Another young superstar on the rise. Achraf Hakimi remains officially on the books of Real Madrid — where he had spent a decade as youth and first team player — but has for the past two seasons proved himself as one of the continent’s finest right-backs with Borussia Dortmund. 

His forays into the opposition half and goal contributions, whether scored or assisted, have invited comparisons to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold as two of the finest players in their position today.

With his two-season loan deal in Germany about to expire, the Madrid-born 21-year-old is set to return to his parent club where coach Zinedine Zidane could well consider him ready to be starter.

Despite not playing in the 2017-18 Champions League final against Liverpool while still at Madrid, Hakimi claimed a winners’ medal to become the first Moroccan to achieve that feat.

Hakimi was part of Morocco’s squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and with 28 caps to his name already, a long and successful career at club and international level beckons.

6. Abdelkrim Merry (“Krimau”)

A true pioneer in every sense. One of the first Arab footballers to star in Europe, the man nicknamed Krimau played his entire career in France. But unlike many North African footballers who followed in his footsteps, the Casablanca-born forward would end up representing Morocco, rather than his adopted home, fleetingly but to great acclaim.

His meagre international career of only 13 matches included his nation’s memorable participation at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where Morocco topped their group ahead of European heavyweights England, Poland and Portugal.

Against the latter, Krimau captured the imagination of the watching world, scoring once and generally running the Portuguese defense ragged as Morocco ran out 3-1 winners. The result confirmed them as the first African and Arab nation to progress to the knock-out stages of the World Cup, where they narrowly lost to eventual finalists West Germany.

At club level, Krimau started off at Bastia before playing for Lille, Toulouse, Metz, Strasbourg and Saint-Etienne, to name just a few of his clubs. 

5. Noureddine Naybet

Younger fans may not be familiar with Naybet’s career, but the Moroccan international is to this day fondly remembered at Deportivo La Coruna, for whom he won one Spanish La Liga title, one Copa Del Rey and two Spanish Super Cups after joining from Nantes in 1996. 

Naybet, capped 115 times by his country, and a veteran of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, had joined Portugal’s Sporting Club from Moroccan powerhouse Wydad before moving to France in 1993.

Rounded up his career in Europe in the Premier League with two seasons at Tottenham, but his heroics in Spain is what he will forever be revered for.

4. Mehdi Benatia

Yet another of the string of Moroccan internationals to excel in Europe, with his medal collection the envy of most footballers around the world.

The French-born Mehdi Benatia has spent the entirety of his career in Europe, starting out at Marseille before eventually moving to Udinese and then Roma in Italy.

It was at Bayern Munich and Juventus, however, that he hit the peak of his career, winning two Bundesliga and three Serie A titles respectively as well as enjoying German and Italian cup success.

Capped a wonderful career by leading his country to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, after an absence of 20 years from football’s ultimate stage.

3. Riyad Mahrez

The gifted Algerian winger’s two Premier League titles could not have been in more different circumstances. The first, with Leicester City in 2015-16, is widely regarded as one of football’s most unlikely triumphs, one that to this day stretches credibility. The second, in 2018-19, was part of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City side that claimed the Premier League trophy for the second year running.

All of which makes his relatively modest introduction to English football all the more remarkable.

After joining Leicester from Le Havre at the start of 2014, he helped the club to win the Championship a few months later and, after a difficult first season in the top flight, that miraculous Premier League title as well as the PFA Player’s Player of the Year for good measure.

Remains one of a select group of 10 players to have won English football’s biggest prize with two different clubs.

2. Rabah Madjer

One of the first Arab players to make an impact in Europe. And what an impact it was.

Rabeh Madjer gained worldwide acclaim with the equalizer for Algeria in their stunning 2-1 win over West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. That proved to be an inspiration for a stellar career.

After seven years at hometown club NA Hussein Dey, Madjer joined Racing Paris in 1983, before moving on two years later to Portuguese giants Porto, where he enjoyed the best and most memorable years of his career. Most famously, he scored a memorable back-heeled equalizer against Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup Final, which Porto eventually won 2-1.

Later that year he scored an extra-time winner against Penarol of Uruguay as Porto won the Intercontinental Cup (the predecessor to the FIFA Club World Cup) in Tokyo.

Three Portuguese league titles and 50 goals in six years confirm him as one of his nation’s, and Arab football’s, greatest exports.

1. Mohamed Salah

Arguably the most recognizable and greatest Middle Eastern and Arab footballer of all time. He excelled at Basel in the Swiss Super League, and then struggled to get playing time at Chelsea, before a spell in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma set him on the path for global domination.

Since signing for Jurgen Klopp’s team in the summer of 2017, he has become one of the world’s best players, his move coinciding with, even inspiring, Liverpool’s transformation from contenders to proven winners. In his first season, the man fans call the Egyptian King finished top of the Premier League scoring charts with a record 34 goals and played a leading role in Liverpool’s march to the Champions League final, where he famously was injured and substituted in a 3-1 loss. He also won FIFA’s Puskas award for a solo effort against Everton.

The following season, Salah retained the Golden Boot as Liverpool just missed out on the Premier League title, but made up for it with Champions League success, the forward scoring the opener in the 2-0 win over Tottenham in the final. This season, the 27-year-old Salah finds himself on the verge of winning the Premier League trophy, something Liverpool have not done in 30 years.

Having led Egypt — for whom he has scored 41 international goals — to the 2018 World Cup, his legendary status, at home and for Liverpool, is beyond debate.