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    One of UK's Biggest Football Clubs Arrives for 'Morally Corrupt' Tour of Myanmar

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    Leeds United - who were champions of England as recently as 1992 - have flown a team out to Myanmar to play two controversial post-season friendlies. The Shadow Sports Minister Rosena Alli-Khan said last month the trip was "morally bankrupt" but what do the fans think?

    Although they are now in the second tier of English football, Leeds remain one of the biggest clubs in the country and their decision to send a team out to Myanmar made them the target of criticism.

    Almost a million Rohingya people — who are Muslim — have been driven out of the country and forced to flee across the border into Bangladesh after clashes with ethnic Burmese mobs, many of them supported by Buddhist monks and by the Myanmar army.

    The country's Prime Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized for failing to stop human rights abuses and alleged atrocities in the western state of Rakhine but she had already been told her Nobel Peace Prize — which she was awarded in 1991 — will not be revoked.

    In a newspaper article last month Shadow Sports Minister Rosena Alli-Khan said she believed sport should be free from political interference "unless absolutely necessary."

    'State-Sponsored Mass Murder'

    "On this occasion, I believe it to be absolutely necessary for me to share my experiences of the ongoing violence in Myanmar to urge Leeds United to cancel the planned post-season tour. 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," said Ms. Alli-Khan, who replaced Sadiq Khan as a Labour MP when he became Mayor of London. 

    Leeds are set to face a Myanmar National League All-Star team in the capital Yangon on Wednesday, May 9, and will then play the national team in Mandalay on Saturday, May 12.

    The club's owner, Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani, said he had visited Myanmar many times.

    'Warm and Welcoming People'

    "I am aware of the serious issues within the country but I also know that it is a beautiful place filled with incredibly warm and welcoming people," he said in a statement defending the decision to play there. 

    ​"This was a carefully considered decision and we knew it would be controversial but this is about people not governments. It has never been my intention, nor that of the club, to get involved in a political debate in Myanmar. However, if because of the tour we further highlight the ongoing serious issues in certain areas of the country, then maybe that is a positive thing," said Mr. Radrizzani.

    The club deny they are being paid to visit Myanmar but it is believed the tour has been sponsored by AYA, a Burmese bank.

    Leeds played their final league game of the season on Sunday, May 6, beating Queen's Park Rangers 2-0.

    But several first-team players, including Pontus Jansson, Adam Forshaw, Liam Cooper and Pablo Hernandez will not be going on the tour.

    'Fans Have Understandable Concerns'

    When the tour was announced Leeds United Supporters Trust issued a statement.

    "In light of the current Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidance to avoid all but essential travel to certain areas, fans have raised understandable concerns regarding safety of those choosing to travel to support the team as well as ethical questions regarding a decision to visit a country with significant political unrest," said the trust.

    The Supporters Trust welcomed the reassurances from the club on supporter safety.

    "The Trust however sees this tour as a strange and controversial choice, given the dangerous political climate Myanmar currently finds itself in," they added.

    Radrizzani bought Leeds United last year for £45 million (US$51 million) from another Italian businessman, Massimo Cellino, who was banned from all football activity for 12 months by the FA.

    The English Football League says it has no plans to sanction Leeds for taking part in the tour.

    ​In the 1970s Leeds were one of the giants of English football, winning the league and competing in the European Cup under their legendary manager Don Revie.

    When Revie took the England manager's job he was replaced by his arch-rival Brian Clough, who only lasted 44 days.


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