Leeds United asked the Foreign Office (FCO) to issue a statement supportive of the football club’s highly controversial trip to Myanmar but the request was turned down, official emails show.
On April 24, the day the club announced its tour to the south-east Asian country, where the regime has been accused by the United Nations of carrying out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, a Leeds United representative telephoned a Foreign Office official and complained about “frustrating” criticism.
In an email released by the FCO under Freedom of Information laws but with the names of individuals redacted, the official said that the Leeds United representative asked if the Government department could issue a statement recognising that players, coaches and staff intended to conduct outreach work in the community during the trip last month.
But the official explained that doing so would not be in line with FCO policy.
Leeds United was branded “morally corrupt” by Shadow Sports Minister Rosena Allin-Khan for travelling to Myanmar, also known as Burma, while a group of five Leeds MPs urged the club to reconsider the “deeply inappropriate trip”.
Senior Labour MP John Mann and Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords Lord Newby - both Leeds fans - also criticised the tour.
And Amnesty International branded it “odd”.
The official’s email, addressed to other unnamed people at the FCO, reads: “I took a call this afternoon from [REDACTED] at Leeds United Football Club.
“He said Leeds United had already been receiving criticism following their announcement this morning of their tour to Burma in May.
“It was frustrating as they intended to get out into the community and try to connect with ordinary people and do some good. Could the FCO issue a statement recognising this and encouraging them?
“I said that while we had a policy of promoting responsible business by British firms in Burma, we didn’t normally issue statements about individual companies’ plans. He accepted this.”
The Leeds United representative also told the official that he had been aware of the political situation in Myanmar before announcing the post-season tour.
Radrizzani’s defence of the tour
Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani repeatedly defended the post-season tour to Myanmar amid fierce criticism, telling the BBC at the time: “We’re just coming here to play football with our friends from the local football federation. “We are not against any government, we are not discriminating (against) anyone, we are against violence and we’re just playing football and bringing joy to the people. We are not making any money out of this game.”
The club played two matches in the country, losing the first 2-1 to a Myanmar National League all stars team in Yangon on May 9, before beating the country’s national side 2-0 in Mandalay on May 11.