Bayern Munich back in Qatar amid sponsorship uncertainty

BERLIN (AP) — The Bayern Munich team flew to Qatar on Friday for its winter training camp amid uncertainty over the club’s contentious sponsorship agreement with the Persian Gulf country.

State-owned Qatar Airways’ lucrative advertising deal is due to expire at the end of the season and there is pressure on the Bavarian powerhouse from its own fans not to extend it. Many Bayern supporters feel it’s damaging to the club’s reputation to take money from a country associated with human rights abuses.

The issue has long been a source of contention between Bayern and its own fans, who have consistently campaigned against the sponsorship agreement. Members of the Bayern ultra-fan groups, Munich’s Red Pride and Club. No. 12, displayed banners at games condemning what they say is the “sports washing” of human rights abuses in Qatar through Bayern’s publicity for the sheikhdom.

“We continue to stand by our position that we’re absolutely against an extension of the sponsorship agreement,” Alexander Salzweger from Club No. 12 told The Associated Press this week. “In contrast to previous years, it’s no longer about an early termination, which would have been more than complicated, but not extending the sponsorship.”

Bayern did not respond to requests for comment.

Fans previously called on Bayern to prematurely end the sponsorship deal. The club’s 2021 AGM ended in tumult and anger when members booed the club’s directors for refusing to discuss the issue.

Bayern president Herbert Hainer apologized at the following AGM last November when he said he made “mistakes” in not allowing a discussion at the previous meeting.

Club No. 12 organized a public meeting in Munich in 2020 titled “Qatar, human rights and FC Bayern” featuring two migrant workers who spoke of their experiences constructing stadiums for the World Cup. Bayern was invited to send a representative but did not respond to organizers.

The team plays with Qatar Airways on the sleeves of the players’ jerseys. The club receives 10 million euros ($10.5 million) a year from its five-year deal with the Qatari carrier. That arrangement was signed in 2018, replacing Bayern’s previous sponsorship deal with Doha Airport.

The club has been holding mid-season training camps in the Persian Gulf country since 2011, though plans to train there in 2022 and 2021 were scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn said in November that the club was deferring its decision on whether to extend its deal with Qatar Airways.

“We will continue to discuss the issue intensively after the World Cup and find a solution for FC Bayern,” Kahn told members at the AGM.

There has been no news on the issue from the club since.

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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press