Leeds United owner: Trip to war-torn Myanmar a 'carefully considered decision'

Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani has defended the club's controversial tour of Myanmar next month.

Leeds United owner: Trip to war-torn Myanmar a 'carefully considered decision'

Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani has defended the club's decision to tour Myanmar at the end of the season.

The Sky Bet Championship club's plans to play an All-Star XI in Yangon on May 9 and Myanmar's national team in Mandalay on May 11 have been met by a storm of protest.

Shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Amnesty International and large numbers of Leeds fans have urged the club to cancel the trip.

Myanmar's governing regime has been accused of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, including rape and slaughter, but Radrizzani, who has business interests in south-east Asia, insists the tour will have a positive impact.

"It has never been my intention, nor that of the club, to get involved in a political debate in Myanmar," Radrizzani said in an open letter.

"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 simply want to use sport to do some good. I am proud to be active in another region in south-east Asia where I support via Play For Change, a local NGO (non-governmental organisation) in Nepal, in providing sports and educational activities to over 4000 underprivileged children.

"We can't spread our values by turning our backs, we can only do this by engaging. We will go to Myanmar to share the famous values and ethos of Leeds United Football Club."

Radrizzani, whose companies Aser and Eleven Sports have business partnerships in the region, said the club would not receive any payment to play in Myanmar.

Leeds will be holding football clinics with the Myanmar Football Federation Academies in Yangon and Mandalay.

"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.

Radrizzani said he had spent 10 years living in Asia and had visited Myanmar on several occasions. "It is somewhere very close to my heart," he added.

Shadow sports minister Dr Allin-Khan reacted with "anger and dismay" and urged Radrizzani to cancel the tour in a letter she posted on Twitter.

"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," Dr Allin-Khan said.

Amnesty International has also criticised the club's decision.

"The Myanmar authorities have continued the brutal crackdown despite a global outcry," said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen.

"Far too often sporting events have been used as a cheap PR tool to 'sportswash' the stain of a country's human rights record."

Some Leeds fans have voiced their anger on social media, while the Leeds United Supporters Trust said it was "a strange and controversial choice".

"It's not a tour that I would have chosen personally," LUST chairman Steve White told Press Association Sport.

Leeds United Supporters Club secretary Chris Hall added: "It seems a strange decision for Leeds to be playing two friendly games there."

The Leeds United Supporters Club of Scandinavia, which claims to represent 5000 fans, has called for the tour to be cancelled.

"This Myanmar trip puts the club and its rich traditions in a bad light. The club should turn," LUSCOS said on Facebook.

Regional MEP Amjad Bashir also spoke out against the planned trip, labelling it "misguided".

Bashir, who has campaigned for the protection of Myanmar's Rohingya minority, said: "By playing football there, they would be giving succour to a brutal regime and aligning themselves with the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide."

- PA

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