YANGON — The manager of English football club Leeds United shrugged off criticism of the team’s visit to Myanmar on Wednesday, saying the club was in the country only “for football”.
The team flew to Myanmar this week for a pre-season tour despite a military crackdown that Britain, the U.S. and others have denounced as ethnic cleansing of the minority Rohingya in the country’s northwest.
“We are just here for football,” said manager Paul Heckingbottom after his side lost a 2-1 friendly to Myanmar’s National League all-stars at Yangon football stadium.
Rosena Allin-Khan, spokeswoman for sport for Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter that she had written to Leeds urging the club to cancel the planned tour.
Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in August sparked a military crackdown that, according to the United Nations and rights groups, sent nearly 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to camps in Bangladesh.
The UN said the military action amounted to ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies the accusation, saying it was engaged in legitimate counterinsurgency operations.
Leeds said last month it was visiting Myanmar to support the country’s goals for grass-roots and elite football development.
Aside from friendly matches, the team said it will conduct football clinics with Myanmar Football Federation academies in Yangon and Mandalay and visit cultural sites.