Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has defended the club's decision to organise a post-season tour to Myanmar. The club will play two friendly matches, against a Myanmar National League [MNL] All-Star Team and the Myanmar national side, next month in Yangon and Mandalay, in a tour sponsored by AYA Bank.
The planned visit to the politically volatile region has raised concern among supporters, while Amnesty International called on the club to use the trip to raise awareness of the plight of the Rohingya in the northern Rakhine province. Radrizzani insists the tour is "about people, not governments" and believes local people will benefit from engaging with the club.
Leeds chairman defends problematic tour
In an open letter to fans published on the club's website, 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. The club is not receiving any fee to play. Rather I see this both as a personal initiative to support local football and a way to introduce the name of Leeds United in the fastest growing country in Southeast Asia.
"I believe the tour will have a positive impact on the local community in parts of the country we intend to visit. This was a carefully considered decision and we knew it would be controversial, but this is about people not governments. It has never been my intention, nor that of the club, to get involved in a political debate in Myanmar. However, if because of the tour we further highlight the ongoing serious issues in certain areas of the country, then maybe that is a positive thing.
"We simply want to use sport to do some good. I am proud to be active in another region in Southeast Asia where I support via Play For Change, a local NGO in Nepal, in providing sports and educational activities to over 4000 underprivileged children. We can't spread our values by turning our backs, we can only do this by engaging. We will go to Myanmar to share the famous values and ethos of Leeds United Football Club."