Leeds ‘going to play football on grounds soaked in blood’
Club visiting Myanmar in May despite accusations of ethnic cleansing by governing regime
Managing director of Leeds United Angus Kinnear (R) at a press conference to announce the club’s tour to Myanmar. Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA
Leeds United have announced they will play two matches in Myanmar in a tour sponsored by a bank with close links to the regime accused of ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses against its Muslim Rohingya minority.
Leeds will play two post-season friendlies in May in the Myanmar cities of Yangon and Mandalay.
Since August 2017 a campaign of violence, described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing and as genocide by Amnesty International, has been carried out in the northern state of Rahkine in Myanmar.
The military has razed villages, killed men and abused women and children, resulting in more than 700,000 people fleeing over the border to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar military and government, including de facto leader, the Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, have denied responsibility for the violence but recently the top UN human rights official called for Myanmar to be referred to the .
In a damning statement the organisation representing the Rohingya community in the UK described Leeds as “disgraceful”, adding: “Leeds United FC is going to play football on the grounds soaked in the blood of innocent Rohingya children, women and older people.”
Leeds will play an all-star team from Myanmar’s National League and then the national team, on a tour sponsored by AYA, a private Myanmar bank implicated in ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.
AYA bank is owned by the Myanmar tycoon Zaw Zaw, who was blacklisted by the US for being a crony of the former military regime. He is a close ally of Suu Kyi and the government, and is alleged to be one of the biggest funders of a controversial programme to rebuild Rahkine which is thought will have little benefit for the Rohingya community if they are allowed to return.
The Leeds owner, Andrea Radrizzani, has business interests in sports media firms operating in south-east Asia.
While fans expressed concern over aligning the club with Myanmar, the Leeds managing director, Angus Kinnear, defended the decision and said the squad “are very excited for the chance to represent the club in Asia”.
Kinnear added: “Myanmar is one of the fastest-growing nations in south-east Asia and is passionate about English football.
“They have ambitious goals for grassroots and elite football development that we are delighted to be able to support. This tour gives us an opportunity to meet new fans of football who will hopefully support our journey back to the Premier League.”
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, described the choice as “odd” and said the club had a responsibility to call for an end to the violence against the Rohingya during their visit.
“The last year has seen the human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorate dramatically,” Allen said. “Far too often sporting events have been used as a cheap PR tool to ‘sportswash’ the stain of a country’s human rights record. We’re not going to tell Leeds United where they should and shouldn’t visit, but if the tour does go ahead, the club should use its leverage to call for an end to the crackdown.” – Guardian service