Yangon (AFP) – Leeds United suffered an embarrassing 2-1 defeat Wednesday in the first friendly of a tour to Myanmar that has stoked controversy over playing in a country condemned for its treatment of its Rohingya community.
The second tier Championship side are seeking to build a fan base in the Southeast Asian nation and went into the match against the Myanmar National League “All Stars” team in Yangon as clear favourites.
The side failed to perform, however, despite a first-half equaliser by captain Samuel Saiz.
All Stars’ Nigerian striker Christopher Chizoba clinched the match with a 63rd-minute penalty against an under-par Leeds team still reeling from a disappointing mid-table finish back home.
But the interest in this tour has not just been about what happens on the pitch.
Amnesty International and British MPs from the club’s home city criticised the decision to tour Myanmar because of its questionable human rights record.
Myanmar’s military has forced some 700,000 of its Rohingya Muslim population over the border into Bangladesh since August last year in violence the UN has branded “ethnic cleansing”.
Italian tycoon and club owner Andrea Radrizzani defended the visit, however, at his arrival to the stadium.
“We do sport. We do football. We’re not politicians,” he said.
“How many other areas are there in the world — also in China, in other parts of the world — where there are abuses,” he added.
Myanmar football fans gave Leeds a warm welcome.
“By deciding to come here, it shows they’re sticking to their guns and not giving into criticism and that’s why I’m proud of them,” said 35-year-old Sabel, sporting a red Myanmar shirt.