Another January, another debate surrounding training camps in the Middle East. Bayern Munich have strengthened connections with Qatar, agreeing a lucrative sponsorship agreement with Doha Airport.
As Bayern Munich dropped from third to fifth in the Deloitte Money League, the club on Wednesday confirmed a "Platinum-Sponsorship" agreement with Hamad Airport in Doha, which is believed to be worth several million euros.
Neither the value nor the duration of the deal was disclosed by the chief executive of Qatar Airways, the owner of Doha Airport, Akbar al-Baker. Bayern Munich chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, explained that "this partnership is another step in our internationalization strategy" at a press conference in the oil-rich Gulf state.
Rumennigge added: "Part of our cooperation agreement is that we will jointly support social projects and a dialogue concerning critical community and political topics."
But Bayern's decision to strengthen ties with Qatar, amid criticism over the country's violations of human rights and treatment of migrant workers, has provoked extra debate on the topic. The club faced particularly scrutiny for its decision to hold a friendly match in Saudi Arabia last year, but has continued to make Qatar its winter training camp for the past six seasons.
Public pressure on Bayern
Qatar, host nation of the 2022 World Cup, faces investigations into its successful bid to host the tournament, while its recent bids for the 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships are similarly subject to bribery allegations. Fans and politicians have perennially questioned the moral obligations of the club, which now adds the Qatari Airport as its 10th 'Platinum Sponsor'.
"As if there were no other countries in the whole world for a training camp," tweeted Özcan Mutlu, a Green Party member of the Bundestag lower house of parliament who has vociferously criticized the club for its connections in the Middle East.
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the "Bild" newspaper earlier that "Qatar is a strong investor in Germany" and "from a foreign policy point of view, there is nothing wrong with there being exclusive economic relations between Bayern Munich and Qatari companies." Germans companies, such as Volkswagen and Deutsche Bank, have received considerable investments from various Qatari corporations.
The additional negative scrutiny is yet another smirch on the reputation of the club. In 2013, Rummenigge was fined €250,000 for failing to declare to customs two gold Rolex watches he had brought back as gifts from Qatar, while current Bayern coach Pep Guardiola was an ambassador for Qatar's World Cup bid.
Influential supporters group "Club Nr 12" admitted it took note of the deal with "more than a little astonishment," while said it was surprised at the pace of the club's internationalization.
In a statement on their Facebook page, the group said the club cannot simply select partners for economic reasons, saying moral concerns should also play a role. However, the group also said that they believed Bayern's management would shared this opinion.
The supporters group also wants to be part of the discussions around the political discussion in Qatar and will hold a podium discussion in March.