“This is a country where there is state-sponsored ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is not a place to play sport and it is not a place to invest your money with a clear conscience.” Amjad Bashir
Campaigning MEP Amjad Bashir is calling on Leeds United’s owner, Andrea Radrizzani, to cut all financial ties he has with Myanmar – as well as to cancel the club’s forthcoming tour to the strife-ridden country.Leeds is set play two games in May in the country, where families have fled their homes because of military operations.
Mr Bashir, Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has written and asked for a meeting with club officials to give them his first hand experience of the brutality of Myanmar state and to appeal to them to cancel two post-season matches scheduled there.
It has reported that two companies owned by Radrizzani – Aser and Eleven Sports, had business partnerships in the region and were expected to benefit from the tour.
Five Leeds MPs have also sent a letter urging Leeds United to reconsider playing games in Myanmar. The public letter said it would be “deeply inappropriate for Leeds United to play in Myanmar. It was signed by Labour quintet Rachel Reeves, Hilary Benn, Richard Burgon, Fabian Hamilton and Alex Sobel.
Shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan called the trip “morally corrupt”, but Radrizzani defended it.
The chairman himself released an open letter saying: “I also want to be clear that I am active in the Southeast Asia region with going business practices that provide jobs and help to develop the local sports and media sectors.
“I have similar goals for Myanmar, along with many other British businesses that trade with and operate in the country.”
Mr Bashir, a long-standing campaigner for Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority, responded: “When I delivered my letter to Elland Road I was not aware chairman Andrea Radrizzani had direct personal financial interests in that part of Asia and is apparently planning to expand them into Myanmar.
“That makes clear the motivation behind the tour but it also means there is a wider problem he should address.”
“If the folk in charge at Elland Road do not realise that, they are misguided and need a crash-course in the realities about this country – they could start by Googling ‘Myanmar’ and ‘Rohingya’.”
Bashir, who has campaigned for the protection of Myanmar’s brutalised 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.”
He added: “This is a murderous and blood-soaked rogue state.
“Decent people should be isolating them and doing all they can to ensure people face justice for crimes against humanity – not going there for games of football, however lucrative.
“If the folk in charge at Elland Road do not realise that, they are misguided and need a crash-course in the realities about this country – they could start by Googling ‘Myanmar’ and ‘Rohingya’.
“If they do not cancel this tour immediately, they will do a terrible wrong to the Rohingya, our country, the city of Leeds and fans like me.
“This is a country where there is state-sponsored ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is not a place to play sport and it is not a place to invest your money with a clear conscience.
“I appeal again to the club management to meet me too discuss these issues and to Mr Radrizzani to reconsider both the tour and his wider investment in this brutal regime.”
Leeds’ tour to Myanmar has also been questioned by Amnesty International due to the country’s “brutal” human rights record.
Some Leeds fans have voiced their anger on social media, while Leeds United Supporters Trust said it was “a strange and controversial choice, given the dangerous political climate Myanmar currently finds itself in
Amnesty International says ‘it certainly seems like an odd choice of country to choose to tour’.
“Far too often sporting events have been used as a cheap PR tool to ‘sportswash’ the stain of a country’s human rights record.”
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “It certainly seems like an odd choice of country to choose to tour. The last year has seen the human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorate dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled crimes against humanity in Rakhine State to neighbouring Bangladesh; those who remain continue to live under a system amounting to apartheid. The Myanmar authorities have continued the brutal crackdown despite a global outcry. Far too often sporting events have been used as a cheap PR tool to ‘sportswash’ the stain of a country’s human rights record. Leeds are scheduled to play an All-Star XI in Yangon on May 9 and then Myanmar’s national team in Mandalay on 11th May. Both cities fall outside areas which the Foreign Office has advised should be avoided. 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 and raise with the Burmese authorities the plight of the hundreds of thousands of families who have been brutalised and forced to flee their homes.”