Berlin: German politicians have slammed Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for playing a friendly match in Saudi Arabia during their winter training camp amidst human rights violations in the Arabic state.
German league leaders Bayern beat Riyadh's Al-Hilal 4-1 in a one-off friendly on Saturday on the way back to Munich following their winter training camp in Qatar. But Bayern have been criticised for visiting Saudi Arabia amidst on-going human rights violations, such as blogger Raif Badawi who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashings, in regular public floggings, for criticising Saudi Arabia's clerics.
"Sport has such a strong voice, but unfortunately they didn't use it in the place where it would have been useful and helpful," Dagmar Freitag, the Chairperson of the Sports Committee in the Bundestag, told Munich-based newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "Footballers don't have to be politicians, but they should be aware of the human right issues and set an example."
Bayern had first-hand experience of the discrimination in the Arabic state, where women are not allowed to work, as team manager Kathleen Krueger and nutritionist Mona Nemmer were not allowed to work with the squad while in Saudi Arabia and had to watch from the stands.
Other politicians have criticised Bayern's Saudi visit and Sky Sports speculated the German champions made two million euros for agreeing to play the 2014 Asian Champions League finalists. "We closely follow the human rights developments in Saudi Arabia and it is important that we don't close our eyes to these issues at sporting events," added Christoph Stroesser, the German government's commissioner for Human Rights.
"Sport is not there to find solutions, but it can make an important contribution." Bayern were unavailable for comment. The Germans were even criticised by their guests when the Al-Hilal team were barred from attending a joint banquet for the two teams, which the German club later explained was down to a "huge misunderstanding".
Before they left for the Middle East, the run-away Bundesliga leaders had been criticised for accepting the invitation to train in Qatar, with debate raging as to whether it should be allowed to host the 2022 World Cup due to it's poor human rights record. "Of course, we also read about things going on there, which we don't like in Germany, but I think that is a job for politics, not for sport or football," Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told ZDF on the Qatar issue.
There was some good news for Bayern on Tuesday as ex-Germany captain Philipp Lahm returned to training after fracturing his right ankle in November which needed an operation. "I feel great, it feels so good to be able to leave the crutches behind and get back to training," said Lahm who is not expected to play again before the end of February. "Everything is going according to plan."