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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Leeds United tour to crisis-hit Myanmar sparks criticism

The club hold will football clinics and PR visits to landmarks including Yangon’s Shwedagon pagoda

<p>Amnesty International was quick to criticise the move by Leeds United. Action Images/Craig Brough</p>
<p>Amnesty International was quick to criticise the move by Leeds United. Action Images/Craig Brough</p>

Leeds United Football Club will play two friendlies in Myanmar next month as the English Championship side seeks to build a fan base in the troubled south-east Asian country.

But the tour, which will also include football clinics and PR visits to landmarks including Yangon’s Shwedagon pagoda, has already stirred controversy.

Myanmar has faced international criticism over its treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, about 700,000 of whom have been driven into Bangladesh since August last year in what the United Nations says amounts to "ethnic cleansing".

But that has not deterred the end-of-season tour by the renowned Yorkshire club, which are currently mid-table in English football’s second tier.

In a statement the club said it will play a Myanmar All-Star IX on May 9 in Yangon, then a game against the national team two days later in Mandalay.

“Myanmar is one of the fastest growing nations in south-east Asia and is passionate about English football,” managing director Angus Kinnear said in comments published on the club website on Tuesday.

“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.”

Amnesty International was quick to criticise the move.

“It certainly seems like an odd choice of country to choose to tour,” said its UK director Kate Allen.

“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 were relegated from the English Premier League in 2004 and suffered years of financial woes.

The club has since struggled to gain promotion back to the top flight.

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