Bayern fans step up protests against club's ties to Qatar

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FILE - Bayern's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer holds up the trophy as celebrates with his teammates winning the Club World Cup final soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Tigres at the Education City stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Bayern Munich fans have been stepping up their public criticism of the club for its ties to World Cup host Qatar. Bayern supporters displayed a huge banner during the team’s home Bundesliga game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 criticizing their club for what they say is its “sports-washing” of alleged human rights abuses in Qatar by accepting sponsorship from national airline Qatar Airways and holding mid-season team training camps in the Persian Gulf country since 2011. (AP Photo, File)
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BERLIN (AP) — Bayern Munich fans have been stepping up their public criticism of the club for its ties to World Cup host Qatar.

Bayern supporters displayed a huge banner during the team’s home game on Saturday, criticizing the club for what they say is the “sports washing” of human rights abuses in Qatar by accepting sponsorship from that country's national airline.

The Bavarian team has also been holding mid-season training camps in Qatar since 2011.

Bayern club members are preparing to present a motion at the club’s AGM on Nov. 25 calling for it to end to its sponsorship agreements with Qatar “at the earliest possible date.”

The motion’s initiator, Michael Ott, and his backers say the sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways “is incompatible with the values of our association” and that the club’s reputation is being damaged through its links with the Gulf country.

“Instead of bringing about changes, FC Bayern is actively helping the Emirate of Qatar through sponsorship to distract attention from the grievances," Ott says on the webpage where he’s seeking other club members’ support. "If FC Bayern remains silent on the situation in Qatar, our club is expressing its indifference. With this, FC Bayern is damaging its reputation and not living up to its responsibilities as a role model.”

Members of the Bayern ultra fan club “Munich’s Red Pride” displayed the provocative banner in the south stand shortly after the second half began against Freiburg on Saturday in the Bundesliga. It depicted club chairman Oliver Kahn and smiling president Herbert Hainer washing blood-stained clothes in a washing machine under the words, “For money, we’ll wash anything clean.”

A briefcase of money rested on the washing machine, which was inscribed with the letters FCB AG to represent the club, and Kahn was holding another briefcase of money with the inscription, “You can rely on us.” Kahn was holding a clean robe bearing the name of Bayern’s sponsor with his other hand, while both he and Hainer were standing in pools of blood.

Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann defended the club’s stance after his team’s 2-1 victory moved it four points clear at the top of the standings.

“The club tries to discuss things through dialogue, to influence things through dialogue and not by exclusion or looking the other way. I think that we’ve made a little bit of difference,” Nagelsmann said. “In the end my responsibility is for what happens on the field.”

Bayern fans have long protested their club’s financial dealings with Qatar. They arranged a public meeting in January 2020 titled “Qatar, human rights and FC Bayern” featuring two migrant workers who spoke of their experiences while working on stadium construction for next year’s World Cup.

Amnesty released a report in August accusing Qatari officials of doing little to investigate thousands of young migrant workers’ deaths in the country over the past decade.

“As a result, the workers’ bereaved families have been denied the opportunity to receive any compensation from the employer or the Qatari authorities,” Amnesty said.

Bayern supporters have displayed banners criticizing the club’s ties with Qatar before, but the coronavirus pandemic brought some reprieve for club officials because fans were excluded from games in a bid to restrict infections. Now that the fans are back, so are the protests.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP