(Reuters) - English Championship soccer team Leeds United will visit Myanmar for their post-season tour next month despite an army crackdown and the British government’s advice against travelling to some areas in the country.
Former English champions Leeds are scheduled to play the Myanmar national team on May 9 and will take on the National League’s all-stars in a second friendly two days later.
The second-tier side will also conduct football clinics with Myanmar Football Federation academies in Yangon and Mandalay and visit cultural sites including Shwedagon Pagoda and the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, the Yorkshire club said in a statement.
“Myanmar is one of the fastest-growing nations in southeast Asia and is passionate about English football,” said Leeds managing director Angus Kinnear.
“They have ambitious goals for grass-roots and elite football development that we’re delighted to be able to support. This tour gives us an opportunity to meet new fans who will hopefully support our journey back to the Premier League.”
The United Nations and rights groups say a Myanmar military operation in the country’s northwest in August has sent nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees have reported killings, rapes and arson on a large scale.
Britain's opposition Labour Party's Shadow Minister for Sport, Rosena Allin-Khan, said on her official Twitter account twitter.com/DrRosena that she had written to Leeds urging the club to cancel the planned tour.
“It is morally corrupt for a football team to partake in a post-season tour to promote a country which carries out state-sponsored mass murder,” she wrote in the letter.
Myanmar denies accusations its military crackdown constitutes ethnic cleansing.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by David Goodman and Ken Ferris