British soccer team, Leeds United FC, is under fire after announcing Tuesday their plans to tour Myanmar despite the mounting allegations of human rights abuses and an “ethnic cleansing” in the country.
The club revealed their two final post-season games would be the Myanmar cities of Yangon and Mandalay and sponsored by a bank which has been linked to the government and consequently the hundreds of thousands rights abuses reported by refugee Rohingya Muslims.
The backlash was almost immediate with the United Kingdom’s Rohingya community damning the statement as “disgraceful.”
“Leeds United FC is going to play football on the grounds soaked in the blood of innocent Rohingya children, women and older people,” an organization representing the community said in a statement.
In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, Labor MP John Mann and team supporter said, “They should be sorting out new signings rather than flying to conflict zones and assisting a brutal regime."
Amnesty International agreed, with UK director Kate Allen calling the decision to travel to Myanmar an “odd choice,” and urging the team to use their trip for anti-human rights abuse activism.
"Far too often sporting events have been used as a cheap PR tool to 'sports wash' the stain of a country's human rights record,” she said.
Allen continued, “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 brutalized and forced to flee their homes."
Team Managing Director Angus Kinnear responded to the flood of criticism in a statement, “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."
Since August, more than 647,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar, Inter-Sector Coordination Group reported on December 12.