Not even a year ago, Uli Hoeneß snorted that an annual general meeting of FC Bayern was not the "general meeting of Amnesty International". These words were addressed to Bayern member Michael Ott, who had dared to publicly criticize the club's sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways. Two blocks faced each other in October 2022: Hoeneß, who embodied the old FC Bayern, who cannot be called in from the sidelines what he has to do and what not to do. And on the other hand there was Michael Ott. A young lawyer, behind whom many Bayern fans had gathered, for whom love for the club means more than standing in the curve and cheering.
Since this Wednesday, Ott can feel like a late winner. FC Bayern has announced that the sponsorship contract with Qatar Airways will expire. That's good news - not only because the state airline was a morally dubious advertising partner. But also because the termination of the deal shows that protest can very well make a difference. That "those down there" at the grassroots have something to say to "those up there" at the top floors - and that their voices are heard.
A day to celebrate, one might say. But that would be wrong. The connection between the record champions and Qatar Airways lasted five years, and this partnership has been criticized for just as long. Bayern didn't move for five years. It probably only took the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, this sports-political disaster, to cause a rethink in Munich.
The tournament in the desert showed the world public that sport and politics are not separate spheres. Even before the World Cup kicked off, there was a broad debate about discrimination against women and homosexuals in Qatar. It was also about disenfranchised guest workers whose passports had been confiscated and who had to toil in the sweltering heat on the World Cup construction sites.
In Germany, the debate was particularly heated. Not a few editorials said that the national team's participation in the World Cup was a disgrace; the only right response would be to leave Doha immediately. The DFB did not bow to this pressure for good reason (although the team often played as if they were boycotting the World Cup). After all, it was not the fault of the DFB that the tournament had been awarded to Qatar. This was done in 2010 at the behest of the world football association Fifa. And this is exactly where the difference to the case of FC Bayern lies: The Munich-based company chose Qatar Airways itself as a business partner; no one forced them to print the airline's logo on their sleeve.
Now the liaison is over and with it the tormenting discussions at the general meetings for the club management. But nobody needs to believe that anything has improved in world football with FC Bayern's about-face. On the contrary. Those investors from countries where human rights are not very important are pushing into the sport like never before: Saudi Arabia recently lured Cristiano Ronaldo to the kingdom with a salary in the three-digit million range, some Chelsea players are following him these days, and probably at some point too Messi, who is already under contract as the country's "Tourism Ambassador". The Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF has also bought Premier League club Newcastle United. Why not? After all, neighboring Qatar is in the thick of it at Paris Saint Germain. You don't want to be left behind.
The fact that both Qatar and Saudi Arabia earn their billions from the sale of fossil fuels and are also heating up the already overheated transfer market is often overlooked in the discussions. There are just so many other issues that are to be criticized. Where do you want to start there? You can only stop there - as FC Bayern has now done with some delay.