Bayern Munich back in Qatar amid sponsorship uncertainty

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

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

The matter has long been a source of contention between Bayern and its own fans, who have consistently campaigned against the sponsorship deal. Members of the Bayern ultrafan groups, the Red Pride and Club of Munich. No. 12, showed banners at matches condemning what they say is “sports washing” of human rights violations in Qatar through Bayern’s publicity for the sheikh.

“We stand by our position that we are absolutely against an extension of the sponsorship deal,” Alexander Salzweger of Club No. 12 this week to The Associated Press. “Unlike previous years, it is no longer about an early termination, that would have been more than complicated, but not about extending the sponsorship.”

Bayern did not respond to requests for comment.

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

Bayern president Herbert Hainer apologized at the next AGM last November when he said he had made “mistakes” by not allowing discussion at the previous meeting.

Club No. 12 hosted a public meeting in Munich in 2020 titled “Qatar, human rights and FC Bayern” with two migrant workers who spoke about their experiences building stadiums for the World Cup. Bayern was invited to send a representative, but did not respond to the 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 the five-year deal with the Qatari airline. That deal 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, although 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 is delaying the decision to renew its deal with Qatar Airways.

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

Since then, there has been no news of the matter from the club.

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