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Bayern Munich under scrutiny for Saudi Arabia visit

Sebastian Rode tackles Arjen Robben during Bayern training in Doha.

Bayern Munich have been criticised for their trip to Saudi Arabia at the end of their training camp in Qatar.

The Bundesliga club ended their winter training camp in Qatar with a visit to Saudi Arabia, where they defeated Al-Hilal 4-1 on Saturday.

However, upon their return to Germany the next day, Bayern were met with growing discontent by first their fans and then politicians over the club's trip to the Middle East.

"Sport has such a strong voice but it unfortunately does not use it where it would make sense and be helpful," Dagmar Freitag, a Social Democratic Party MP and the head of the parliamentary committee on sport, told Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday.

"Footballers don't have to be politicians, but they should be aware of the human rights situation and absolutely make a statement."

Also speaking in Suddeutsche Zeitung, Christoph Strosser, the human rights commissary of the German government, added that "sport can't be the solution" for the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia but that "it can make an important contribution."

The politicians' remarks emerged after a Bayern supporter had heavily criticised the trip to the Gulf region in an open letter to the club board published on Twitter.

He cited the case of blogger Raif Badawi, whose flogging in Saudi Arabia has led to an uproar in Germany.

"Even though Bayern does not determine the politics in Saudi Arabia and Qatar it legitimises it through their presence," the open letter, which was shared over 300 times on Twitter, and also published by the online outlet of renowned weekly Die Zeit, read.

"There is no honour in playing a friendly in Riad while, so to speak, next to the stadium [where] blogger Badawi's skin is taken off his back with 1,000 lashes," the Green Party's spokesperson for sports, Oczan Mutlu, told Suddeutsche, while adding that it would have been easy "to waive the oil millions and send a strong signal for democracy and human rights."

Stephan Mayer, a Cristian Social Union in Bavaria Member of Parliament and also on the parliamentary committee on sport, warned not to mix sport and sports politics and human rights politics.

"It's about the trip of one club, and not an official tournament or a competition organised by FIFA," he told dpa and added that while he has no understanding for the punishment of Badawi there was nothing Bayern could have done. "Those friendlies like the one in Saudi Arabia or the training camp in Qatar have been planned and arranged for [a] month."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also criticised Bayern and coach Pep Guardiola, who in Riad had said that "we are here to play for the people," for playing in a country where women are denied access to the stadium. "Not at a friendly but rather a women enmity match took place in Riad," the paper said, and also cited the flogging of Badawi as another reason to not play the match.

"Nobody expects that a football company spearheads the fight for civic rights common in democracies," the paper said but wished for "FC Bayern as the highest and richest ambassador of German club football to have a stance on human rights and not to play the Bavarian-Arabian one-two already known from their training camp in Qatar: Hand open, mouth shut."

In Suddeutsche Zeitung, a Bayern spokesperson confirmed that the trip to Riad earned Bayern money, but that the club did not receive the money from Qatar or Saudi Arabia but from their sponsor Volkswagen.

Bayern have so far not responded to the criticism, which on Wednesday received nationwide coverage in outlets such as Spiegel, Frankfurter Rundschau and Die Welt.

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