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Why did Leeds United go to Myanmar?

Sunday 13th May 2018

Leeds United's controversial tour of Myanmar ended on Friday with a 2-0 win over their hosts, but what exactly took Leeds United to the South-East Asian country that the UN describes as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing?"

Football teams going on tours isn't a new thing. It's been happening for as long as the game has been in existence but generally, the reason for them is either to give minutes to players to help sort out their fitness ahead of competitive games or to make money. Considering this tour has happened at the end of the season rules out the first option and Leeds United have given out a few mixed messages along the way but the club insists they did not receive any payment for taking part in the tour. So what exactly was this all about? 

From the beginning, there was opposition from all corners that Leeds United were going to travel to a country that the UK's Foreign Office says "terrorists are likely to carry out attacks." Aside from the personal safety of the travelling party, including players, staff and the few supporters who made the trip, there were also politicians who berated the club for going to a country that seemingly has a poor human rights record and is ran by a "brutal regime"  as one MP put it. 

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The issues with Myanmar surround the Rohingya Muslims who live on the west coast of the country. It is thought there was around 1,000,000 of them in Myanmar but around 700,000 are believed to have fled in the last nine months due to civil unrest and what they describe as the persecution of their people. The Myanmar government don't recognise the rights of the Rohingya and say they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh but that the only conflict is with militants and not civilians. 

It's difficult to judge exactly what is going on in the country without the full facts. However, it can certainly be agreed by all that Myanmar did seem like an odd choice for Leeds United to spend a few days at the end of what has been a season that started well with so much promise before turning sour and again leaving the club looking for answers as to what to do and where to go next. 

From the outside, Myanmar does look like an odd destination but it does seem that there was at least some method in the madness. Leeds United Managing Director, Angus Kinnear had this to say about the country:

"It is one of the fastest growing countries in South-East Asia and they are obsessed with English football."

"The tour would give Leeds the chance to meet new fans who will support Leeds' journey back to the Premier League."

In other words, the club wanted to try a previously untested market and Myanmar was one of the biggest that hadn't yet been tapped into by the big Premier League sides. 

Not only does it look like Leeds United are hoping to gain fans and presumably commercial revenue from their new fans in Myanmar but Leeds owner, Andrea Radrizzani is also hoping to use the trip for his own personal gain. He has continuously denied the club received money but has admitted that the Myanmar FA's President is someone he has a good relationship with and that he is hoping to expand his other business, Eleven Sports into the area. Eleven Sports have just purchased La Liga's television rights in the UK and already have deals in place with other countries in South-East Asia so it seems Radrizzani had more to gain from the tour than Leeds. 

With the tour now in the past and everything has passed off peacefully it remains to be seen if there will be anything come from it in terms of deals between Leeds United, Myanmar or Radrizzani's business interests. However, putting all the politics aside and looking at it purely from a footballing stand point it seems like it was all a bit pointless and you wonder just how many of those who went on the tour will even be at the club next season, including manager Paul Heckingbottom. 

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.

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