Leeds United Football Club has sparked controversy over its announcement of a pre-season tour of Myanmar at the beginning of May.
The tour would be sponsored by AYA bank, which is owned by Myanmar tycoon Zaw Zaw who is currently blacklisted by the US for his close ties to the Myanmar military which has been committing atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.
Zaw Zaw is also said to be a close ally of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and is known to be the biggest funder in the re-building of Rakhine state after the devastating genocide.
The club has been urged to scrap the trip, which has been condemned as “morally corrupt” by shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan.
Reacting to the pressure to cancel the trip from fans and non-fans alike, Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani published an open letter on the Leeds United website defending the move.
He said: “I have spent over 10 years living in Asia and Myanmar is a country I have visited on many occasions. 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. It is somewhere very close to my heart.
“I also want to be clear that I am active in the Southeast Asia region with ongoing 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 presently.
“Football is extremely popular in Myanmar and I believe the game we all love has the power to help developing nations by bringing people together, especially young people. That is why I wanted to take the team on a post-season tour to play matches and run coaching clinics with children from the area.”
However, his letter was followed by a string of tweets by Labour Shadow Ministers and Leeds MPs Richard Burgon and Fabian Hamilton, Liberal Democrat Lord Newby and Conservative MEP Amjad Bashir, all of them calling the tour to be cancelled.
The Rohingya community in Bradford, who are the biggest Rohingya community in Europe, have also called for the tour to be cancelled and asked meet Andrea Radrizzani.
The club has subsequently not made any further comment on the matter.
MPACUK spokesperson, Imran Shah, which has launched a campaign on the matter, said: “There is no dispute on what is happening in Myanmar. The whole world has called it nothing less then ethnic cleansing. The regime would welcome such a move to cover for devastation they have caused to the Rohingya people.
“Leeds United should be mindful of this and least should not be working with someone like Zaw Zaw is known to be working with people complicit to the genocide. We are urging people to lobby and pressure Leeds United, and remind them that profit does not come before humanity.”