A founder of the Rohingya Football Club has called on Leeds United to cancel its upcoming visit to Myanmar and schedule friendly matches with the team of Rohingya refugees in Kuala Lumpur instead.
Rohingya FC secretary Mohammed Faruk told the South China Morning Post recently that the decision by Leeds United to play two friendly matches against Myanmar teams meant the club was “dealing with people who don’t know how to respect humanity.”
“We urge Leeds to have a friendly match with us instead of playing with Myanmar teams and show some humanity,” he said. “Otherwise, cancel the tour. By cancelling the tour, [Myanmar] will learn a lesson.”
Leeds managing director Angus Kinnear announced last week that the club would come to Myanmar to play against the Myanmar League All Stars team on May 9 and the national team on May 11.
Responding to public criticism over the decision to play in Myanmar, from which nearly 700,000 Rohingya have been expelled by military operations since August 2017, Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani argued that the visit would “have a positive impact on the local community in parts of the country we intend to visit.”
“This was a carefully considered decision and we knew it would be controversial, but this is about people not governments. It has never been my intention, nor that of the club, to get involved in a political debate in Myanmar,” Radrizzani said. “However, if because of the tour we further highlight the ongoing serious issues in certain areas of the country, then maybe that is a positive thing.”
Rohingya FC officials have expressed a similar sentiment in the past, from which Faruk’s recent criticism of Leeds marks a stark departure. In Jan. 2017, the club’s co-founder and chairman Muhammad Noor told Coconuts that he would be willing to set up a match with the Myanmar national team.
“If they are willing to play, we are willing…We are a peace-loving people, and we want to reconcile,” Noor said. “Maybe if they recognize us as a football team, they will come to recognize us as a people.”
Eight months after that proposal, Myanmar security forces began a campaign of killing, rape, arson, and expulsion against Rohingya civilians that has been described as genocidal by UN officials.