Football: Bayern defend Saudi trip amidst growing criticism

21st January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on Wednesday defended the German champions' decision to play a friendly in Saudi Arabia amidst criticism surrounding the Arabic state's human rights record.

Bayern held their annual training camp in Qatar earlier this month before beating Saudi side Al-Hilal 4-1 in a one-off friendly in Riyadh on Saturday before flying home.

Sky Sports has speculated that Bayern made two million euros ($2.3m) for agreeing to play in Saudi Arabia.

But senior figures in German sport and politics have slammed Bayern as the friendly coincided with the flogging in Riyadh of activist Raif Badawi, who had criticised the state's clerics.

Rummenigge insists Bayern oppose any human rights violations, but admits they should have addressed the matter while in Saudi.

"Bayern Munich condemns all forms of cruel punishment that are not consistent with human rights, as in the current case involving blogger Raif Badawi, a critic of Islam," said Rummenigge in a statement.

"It would have been better to clearly address this on the occasion of our match in Saudi Arabia.

"We are a football club and not political policy-makers, but naturally everyone, ourselves included, ultimately bears responsibility for compliance with human rights."

But Theo Zwanziger, a member of football's governing body FIFA's executive body and a former president of the German Football Association (DFB), led the scathing voices.

"I have known for some time that at Bayern commerce beats ethics and, if in doubt, they will stand on the side of the purse," Zwanziger told Frankfurt-based newspaper FAZ.

"That's a shame, but it doesn't surprise me."

On Tuesday, Social Democratic Party MP Dagmar Freitag and Greens spokesman Ozcan Mutlu were also highly critical.

"Sport has a strong voice, but it does not use it at the points where it makes sense and can be helpful," Freitag told the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Footballers don't have to be politicians but they should be aware of human rights conditions and could set examples."

Mutlu described the decision to play in Saudi as "shameful", given that Badawi's flogging the day before had taken place near the Al-Halil stadium.

"There is no honour to have a friendly game in Riyadh when, so to speak, right next to the stadium the blogger Badawi is flogged 1,000 times and has his skin pulled off his back," he added.

Bayern have an 11-point lead in the Bundesliga and play at second-placed Wolfsburg when the German league resumes on Friday January 30 after the winter break.

© 2015 AFP

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