Leeds United have come in for heavy criticism after announcing a plan to play two post-season friendlies in crisis-hit Burma next month.
Leeds are taking their first-team squad to the Far East in the week after their Championship season ends to play two games in a country badly affected by political unrest in the past 12 months.
The Burmese government has been accused of ethnic cleansing by United Nations officials following violence which forced thousands of Rohingya Muslims to leave their homes and flee over the border to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Foreign Office guidance warns against all but essential travel to several parts of Burma but Leeds are to contest friendlies outside the most volatile zones during a commercial tour sponsored by AYA Bank.
Paul Heckingbottom’s squad are due to play a Myanmar National League All-Stars line-up in Yangon on May 9 and Burma’s national side in Mandalay on May 11. Their Championship season finishes on May 6, at home to Queens Park Rangers.
Most of United’s senior players will make the trip, though some with international commitments – including World Cup-bound Sweden defender Pontus Jansson – will be left behind.
Leeds sent managing director Angus Kinnear to assess the stadiums and facilities over the weekend and their squad have been briefed about medical provisions needed before they fly out.
The announcement provoked criticism on account of Burma’s human rights record, with Labour’s John Mann, the Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw, accusing Leeds of “assisting a brutal regime”.
Kinnear, however, said: “Myanmar is one of the fastest growing nations in South East Asia and is passionate about English football.
“They have ambitious goals for grassroots and elite football development that we are delighted to be able to support.
“This tour gives us an opportunity to meet new fans of football who will hopefully support our journey back to the Premier League in the coming years.
“From a football perspective, we welcome the opportunity for our players who have not featured much in the past six months due to injuries the chance to continue their rehabilitation.
“The squad are very excited for the chance to represent the club in Asia.”