Bayern signed a five-year sponsorship deal with state-owned Qatar Airways in 2018 which the German media claim is worth around 20 million euros per year to the Bundesliga leaders.
The airline’s logo is on the sleeve of Bayern’s famous red shirts. However a group of fans wants club president Herbert Hainer and CEO Oliver Kahn to cut ties when the Qatari deal expires in 2023. “We’ll wash anything clean for money,” was the slogan on a banner which appeared during a recent Bayern home game alongside a cartoon of Hainer and Kahn feeding money into a washing machine.
In the run-up to the club’s annual general meeting on Thursday, disgruntled fans have tried to impose a motion demanding the non-renewal of the deal. Attempts to get an interim injunction were rejected by a Munich regional court, but the group say their fight goes on. “We want to obtain preventive measures to avoid a renewal of the contract,” said Michael Ott, a spokesman for the group of fans. “Qatar is guilty of massive human rights violations and there are heavy suspicions of corruption in sport. Now we go into the next round.”
The protestors point to human rights groups, who accuse Qatar of exploiting foreign workers, particularly in the construction of stadiums for the next World Cup, which kicks off in November 2022. Officials in Qatar reject the claims.
Last week, Nasser al-Khater, the chief executive of the Qatar World Cup hit back, insisting not enough credit has been given for its labour reforms aimed at improving conditions for migrant workers, mostly from South Asia. “Qatar has been unfairly treated and scrutinised for a number of years,” Khater told media just over a year before the tournament starts on November 21, 2022. “There is criticism, yes, there is work that needs to be done. There is however a lot of progress.”
Nevertheless, some Bayern fans are also uncomfortable that the reigning Bundesliga champions held annual winter training camps in Qatar before the Covid-19 pandemic as part of a long-term partnership. According to German daily Bild, several Bayern stars, including captain Manuel Neuer, have asked club bosses not to renew the Qatar Airways contract. However, the Bavarian giants have predicted a loss in revenue due to the pandemic of around 150 million euros and giving up a lucrative sponsorship deal would further hurt their finances.
Former club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who negotiated the Qatar Airways deal in 2018, defended his decision three years ago, arguing that he wanted to ensure Bayern had the cash resources to remain competitive in Europe. “Bayern Munich has made good money from this contract — money necessary for us to pay for the players we need to provide quality on the pitch,” Rummenigge said in a recent podcast.
Faced with open rebellion among their own fans, Bayern bosses insist there are better ways to influence the situation than just cancelling the sponsorship deal or a boycott. Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann has said the club wants to influence the situation through dialogue and “not through exclusion or looking the other way”. “I think we have already made a difference,” he said.