Bayern München and Qatar Airways, A Partnership Worth Scrutinizing

Bayern’s annual general meeting made some headlines last week. First and foremost, it was an attack by Bayern club member and fan Johannes Bachmayr that caught the interest of the public. The 33-year-old man, who had once called Uli Hoeneß his biggest idol, spoke to the annual general meeting for almost 11 minutes about the things that were going wrong at the club.

Among his criticisms was FCB’s dealing with the Qatari company Qatar Airways: “On the one hand side we attack PSG viciously as a state-sponsored team from Qatar, but we do like to receive the sponsorship money from Qatar.”

At the start of the season, Qatar Airways replaced Lufthansa as Bayern’s travel sponsor, making them a premium partner at the Säbener Strasse. Furthermore, the Bavarian giants play with a company logo on their sleeves this season. The deal is said to last for five years and is estimated to fill the coffers of Bayern with €10 million each year.

For Bachmayr and several other fans, this deal is a tough pill to swallow. Bayern has taken great pride in commemorating the history of their former president Kurt Landauer, who had to flee Germany during Hitler’s reign due to the fact that he was a Jew. This, in itself, should make the Bayern bosses think twice about such a deal according to Bachmayr, who told the AGM:

“On the one hand side we praise ourselves for Kurt Landauer’s heritage, but, I won’t say it, but what is going on in Qatar and the nations around Qatar is well known, but we write their name on our sleeves.”

During Bachmayr’s speech, lip readers caught Karl Heinz Rummenigge muttering “Keep calm Uli” to Hoeneß. The 66-year-old president of the club followed his chairman’s advice and decided not to make a rebuke to Bachmayr’s comment, simply stating that the amount of “untrue things that were said would keep us here for three hours if we were to discuss them.”

Pro Qatari statements vs. the reality

Even if there were some untruths in Bachmayr’s attack on Rummenigge and Hoeneß, his speech hit the nail on the head regarding the involvement between Bayern and state-owned company Qatar Airways. Bayern’s bosses have only tightened their relationships with Qatari businesses ever since the club started having its winter training camps in Doha from 2011.

Before the airline joined Bayern as a premium partner, the club was sponsored by Doha’s international airport (owned by Qatar Airways). And whilst Rummenigge stated in 2014 that “we’ve read about certain things going on in Qatar that we don’t like, but that’s the job of politics and not sports or football in particular,” he’s now very much in bed with a company that stands for unacceptable labour practices.

Additionally, the said company is also owned by the state that he himself mildly criticized for human rights violations back in 2014. However, it’s funny how money can make people forget. Rummenigge himself managed to create some uproar when he stated that “football had improved the working conditions of construction workers in Qatar.”

Labour experts have stated that the workers who toiled on World Cup stadiums were now working under better conditions than in the past. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that around 1,500 construction workers still die on building sites every year in the country.

Furthermore, the Kalafa system is still well and alive. This system requires all unskilled labourers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. According to Human Rights Watch, several workers live in “near-feudal conditions.”

Bayern were in contact with the organization in 2016 and were told that they should talk about human rights abuses by the regime. What has happened in the aftermath is the opposite. Instead of mentioning the fact that the Kalafa system and the abuse of unskilled labourers aren’t acceptable, the club is now being sponsored by the same people who create slave-like working environments.

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Working conditions at Qatar Airways

The German sports news program SportInside shed light on how Bayern’s new sponsor treats its employees. In their commercials, Qatar Airways portray themselves as a friendly company with stewardesses who are all smiles, but there’s an ugly truth beneath the surface.

One former employee told Sport Inside: “Working for Qatar Airways is like modern slavery. Work is the only thing that counts, there’s no room for privacy. The company controls every step you make.”

In her experience, the company was excessive in their use of surveillance:

“They watch you everywhere in the spaces of the company. Even at your accommodation. When you want to go somewhere, you must swipe the card and the camera goes live. They can see your face and know exactly when you come back.”

The fact that the Kafala system grants little or no rights to employees has been criticized by several human rights organizations. It gives employers all the power over their employees. A worker can be fired for minor infringements. For the workforce at Qatar Airways, this meant that smoking in public or eating pork could lead to being fired. Women who want to get married need to ask the airline for permission before going through with that very private matter.

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The stewardess interviewed by Sport Inside had one particular incident in mind when she was asked about the Kafala system: “I felt how the Kafala system works. They took my passport for a week. I was scared that maybe they wouldn’t let me out of the country. They could do what they wanted with me.”

The company explicitly mentioned in their employees contracts until 2015 that pregnant women could be fired. Even though the clause has been removed from the contracts, this policy still seems to be intact. Some of the women working for Qatar Airways had to take drastic measures to keep their jobs.

According to the stewardess: “Some employees went through an abortion. Some of them maybe wanted the baby, but they were scared of losing their jobs.”

In response to the accusations put forward by the former employee, the airline stated that them okaying marriages was “a result of immigration laws.” Furthermore, the company denied that employees were under surveillance by cameras, stating: “We only have cameras for security reasons. No cameras are installed in private flats.”

The International Transport Federation is still highly critical of Qatar Airways despite cosmetic changes made to the contracts since 2015. Robert Hengster from ITF told Sport Inside that his organization sat on information that employees of the airline were working “under slave-like conditions” with surveillance and little or no rights at all.

When asked about Bayern’s relationship with the company, Hengster hadn’t anything good to say about the club: “If one takes a closer look at how Qatar Airways has treated pregnant women in the past, and how they are still treating them, one does see that they are simply throwing them out instead of protecting them. What Qatar Airways wants to accomplish with the millions it spends on Bayern München is to clean up their name. Bayern’s board very much supports that behavior.”

Deafening silence at the DFL

In addition to the dire working conditions and the dreadful human rights situation in Qatar, there’s also the fact that Bayern have done a tremendous job in reminding the public of the plight of their former Jewish president Kurt Landauer. The man turned Bayern München into a great club during the 1920s and 1930s, but he was forced to leave Germany to survive. Instead of moving away for good, Landauer decided to come back to help Bayern München to reestablish themselves after the Second World War.

Dealing with Qatar Airways, a company that doesn’t allow Israeli passengers on flights, is a kick to the stomach for the fans who have done a tremendous job in keeping Landauer’s memory alive. Qatar doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel and doesn’t allow Israelis within its border. Any businessman who gets caught doing business with Jews can be sentenced to spend time in an internment camp.

All those elements combined should make the officials at the Säbener Strasse think twice before they put the name of a state-owned airline on their sleeves, but it turned out that the money involved was simply too good to pass up.

On top of that, Bayern are seemingly treated differently by the DFL than other football clubs. In 2013, FSV Frankfurt terminated a sponsorship agreement with the Saudi Arabian airline Saudia. It was the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that brought the deal to the public’s attention.

Among the main critical points on the deal was the fact that Saudia doesn’t allow Israeli passengers on their planes. DFL president Rainer Rauball told FAZ in the aftermath of the termination that the DFL would have acted if FSV Frankfurt hadn’t terminated the deal, as “German football doesn’t tolerate any form of discrimination.”

The deal between Bayern and Qatar Airways hasn’t stirred up any reaction from the DFL.

Further reading

The Economist on the Kafala system

Norwegian football publication Josimar on working conditions for construction workers in Qatar

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article… I do hope Bayern’s members and jounalist’s such as yourself keep putting the pressure on Uli and KHR. I love Bayern’s new jersey, but refuse to buy one with the Qatar airways patch on it…

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  1. Qatar-frågan är känslig, men fler och fler reagerar – Olof Lundhs blogg

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