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Leeds stir up fresh controversy with Myanmar trip
Tuesday, 24th Apr 2018 13:27 by Tim Whelan

Leeds have announced a short post-season tour of Myanmar next month, but have already run into another PR disaster, due to the regime’s appalling human rights record.

The club officially announced today that the trip will involve two friendlies, against Myanmar National League All Stars in Yangon on May 9 and the national team in Mandalay on May 11. This is supposedly to help some of the squad to work on their fitness, but will not involve those hoping to be involved in the World Cup finals, such as Pontus Jansson.

The Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to several areas of Burma, though Yangon and Mandalay are not among the areas affected. The parts to avoid are the western district, where government troops have carried out a brutal campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslims, forcing many to flee into Bangladesh.

So it’s not surprising that the decision to tour the country has already led to a wave of criticism from many Leeds fans, among them Labour MP John Mann. He told the Yorkshire Post "They should be sorting out new signings rather than flying to conflict zones and assisting a brutal regime". Actually Victor Orta will be sorting out the signings and he probably won’t be on the tour, but we get the point.

We might also wonder what the benefit will be of visiting a hot and humid country in May as it heads towards it’s warmest part of the year, not least because Myanmar is classed as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. We’ll just have to hope that none of the players pick that up. But predictably it seems that the real reason for making the tour is for commercial rather than footballing considerations.

Managing director Angus Kinnear said “Myanmar is one of the fastest growing nations in southeast 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 in the coming years.”

And the trip, headlined as the AYA Bank Tour 2018, is also expected to have commercial benefits for Aser and Eleven Sports, two companies owned by Andrea Radrizzani. Eleven Sports, a TV rights firm, has deals in place in the Far East, including one in Singapore. Apparently the tour of Burma is “part of the Aser’s ongoing commitment to partnerships in the region.”

Leeds plan to hold football clinics for local children and will also visit different cultural sites in the country. And Angus Kinnear claimed “From a football perspective we welcome the opportunity for our players who have not featured much in the past six months due to injuries the chance to continue their rehabilitation. The squad are very excited for the chance to represent the club in Asia.”

But if we really must go to South-East Asia in May to boost Andrea’s business interests, couldn’t we go somewhere a bit less controversial, such as Malaysia and Singapore? The club has already attracted criticism in some quarters with a tie-up with the Aspire youth academy in Qatar, another country not exactly known for democracy and minority rights, and this latest enterprise is further evidence that the club’s owner is intent on pursuing his wider business interests at all costs, without any thoughts of his wider responsibilities.

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