Oliver Kahn, the chief executive of Bayern, defended the disputed sponsorship agreement between the German football team and Qatar during a panel discussion organised by the club.
“I think very much has happened,” Kahn said, in response to questions from Bayern supporters regarding Qatar’s contested human rights violations.
“Because we’re sitting here today and discussing this very important topic.”
Qatar is scheduled to host the World Cup later this year, but the Gulf state has faced allegations of human rights abuses of migrant workers, including alleged deaths and labour exploitation.
However these claims have been criticised by experts as biased “sensational headlines” against Qatar. While at the World Economic Forum in Davos in late May, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani shed light on the unfair criticism of the Gulf country over its hosting of the 2022 World Cup, describing it as anti-Arab.
On Monday, Kahn noted that Bayern had “several talks” with Qatari officials, including a recent meeting with Qatari representatives in London to discuss tolerance and diversity.
“These are the discussions that are very, very important to me personally,” Kahn said. “I think that’s how we can move forward step by step.”
Bayern Munich President Herbert Hainer agreed.
“Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Hainer said. “But democracy in Germany didn’t occur overnight. It was also a development process.”
The panel was set up in response to chaos in November, when fans of the club protested its sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways at the the annual general meeting. Bayern’s players wear the national carrier’s logo on their jersey sleeves as part of a sponsorship agreement that expires in 2023.
The conversation on Monday was moderated by Christoph Heusgen, a former German ambassador to the UN.
Former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel began by stating that reforms take time in any nation, and he advised against imposing German standards elsewhere.
Both Max Tuón, the president of the International Labor Organization in Doha, and Hassan Al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of the World Cup supreme committee, made mention of recent improvements by Qatar to address the issue of migrant workers’ conditions in the Gulf state.
Since 2018, Qatar’s government and Tuón’s ILO have collaborated on labour reform, drawing applause from the UN agency as well as rights groups and world leaders.
Among the most major steps was the dismantling of the controversial Kafala System which stopped workers from freely transferring jobs. Another major reform is the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage law, introduced last year.
In May last year, Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs also introduced a unified platform for complaints and disputes, which allows all members of society to submit reports against violations of the Labor Law and their employers.
In October 2021, Qatar held its first-ever legislative elections for the two-thirds of the advisory Shura Council, where 30 out of the 45 members of the Council were elected in public vote. The Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani elected two women, neither ran in the elections, with one elected as vice-chairperson.
Qatar’s ambassador to Germany Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani, also touched on the misleading Guardian article that claimed 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar while working on World Cup projects.
Qatari officials have categorically rejected this claim and said this number, collected from a number of Asian embassies in Doha, includes all nationals from those countries that have died in Qatar, and is not in any way linked to the World Cup itself.
According to Amnesty International’s Stephen Cockburn, it is impossible to determine precisely how many migrant labourers have perished while building stadiums in Qatar.
Cockburn stated that “there have been thousands of deaths that have not been investigated”.
Meanwhile, as one of the solutions to the ongoing tensions, Michael Windfuhr of the German Institute for Human Rights suggested that Bayern as a club should be more transparent about its relationships with Qatar.
“It’s also important for companies to communicate openly about what you are doing, what you can do in a country like this,” Windfuhr said.
Michael Ott, a spokesman of Bayern fans questioned press freedoms in the Gulf nation.
“Why are critical guest workers or journalists imprisoned in Qatar under questionable circumstances? If you are so serious about the reforms, then you can engage in a debate with them,” Ott said.
Last month, FIFA President Gianni Infantino compared improvements in Qatar and other countries while speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doh.
“It took us in Europe hundreds of years to arrive where we are now…in this part of the world, in Qatar, it has been done in a few years so it’s clear that at the beginning we need some time to assess it,” Infantino said.
The FIFA president stated that although he believes “progress would have been done anyway,” the World Cup in Qatar provided an opportunity for reform in the nation.
Similarly, an expert on international anti-bribery law as well as corruption and human rights in mega sports speaking at a Play the Game 2022 debate in Denmark last week said Qatar has made more human rights reforms in recent years than any other mega-event host.
“Our failure not to discuss that, is deeply damaging to mega-events and the human rights movement,” Professor Andy Spalding from the University of Richmond School of Law, said.
Speaking about the misleading Guardian figure on reported deaths, Spalding said: “It’s egregiously inaccurate and we can do better than this”.