Leeds United owner defends club's Myanmar tour amid controversy

Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani’s company Eleven Sports owns a TV package in the region

Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani’s company Eleven Sports owns a TV package in the region

The Rohingya population in the northern Rakhine province have been victims of what the United Nations has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

The backlash was nearly immediate with the United Kingdom's Rohingya community damning the statement as "disgraceful".

Two companies owned by Leeds chief Radrizzani, Aser and Eleven Sports, have business partnerships in the region and there are expected to be commercial benefits from the tour.

I have spent over 10 years living in Asia and Myanmar is a country I have visited on many occasions. I am aware of the serious issues within the country, but I also know that it is a lovely place filled with incredibly warm and welcoming people.

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".

"However, if because of the tour we further highlight the ongoing serious issues in certain areas of the country, then maybe that is positive thing".

"We can't spread our values by turning our backs, we can only do this by engaging".

So the club's move to stage two friendlies there was met with widespread condemnation yesterday with England shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan telling BBC that "It is morally corrupt for a football team to partake in a post-season tour to promote a country which carries out state-sponsored mass murder". "They must rethink it, history will judge them to be on the wrong side of this". That is why I wanted to take the team on a post-season tour to play matches and run coaching clinics with children from the area.

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"I see this both as a personal initiative to support local football and a way to introduce the name of Leeds United in the fastest growing country in south-east Asia", the Italian said. Leeds will not play in those areas.

Amnesty International was quick to criticise the move. The military has killed men, abused women and children and razed villages as part of a "brutal" human rights record.

The Myanmar military and government, including de facto leader, the Nobel prize victor Aung San Suu Kyi, have denied responsibility for the violence but recently the top United Nations human rights official called for Myanmar to be referred to the.

Amnesty International UK also questioned the decision to tour and suggested it would "sportswash" the regime.

Amnesty International agreed, with United Kingdom director Kate Allen calling the decision to travel to Myanmar an "odd choice", and urging the team to use their trip for anti-human rights abuse activism.

Political unrest has been a feature of life in Myanmar for several years.

Almost 700,000 of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority have fled the country since August because of ongoing military operations in Rakhine. "But, if the tour does go ahead, the club should use its leverage to call for an end to the crackdown and raise with the Burmese authorities the plight of the hundreds of thousands of families who have been brutalized and forced to flee their homes".