YANGON: Leeds United should use their influence to press Myanmar on its alleged atrocities against the Rohingya instead of drumming up business by touring the country, a rights group said Thursday.
The English Championship football side have been criticised by British lawmakers and rights defenders over the Myanmar tour, which follows an international outcry over the Rohingya crisis.
Myanmar is facing a wave of criticism over its treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, around 700,000 of whom have been driven into Bangladesh since August last year in what the UN says amounts to "ethnic cleansing".
Italian tycoon and club owner Andrea Radrizzani defended the promotional tour late Wednesday as Leeds slumped to an embarrassing 2-1 loss to a Myanmar All-Star XI.
"We do sport. We do football. We're not politicians," he said, protesting that "abuses" take place across the world.
But Fortify Rights, a prominent campaign group which has worked extensively on the Rohingya crisis, renewed the attack on Thursday.
"Leeds United have won themselves a lot of bad headlines coming into this tour," said David Baulk, a Myanmar human rights specialist with the group.
The club "commands a global following" and should "leverage their popularity to throw their weight behind calls for accountability in Myanmar", he added.
The tour has made no such waves in Myanmar, where the loathed Rohingya are referred to as "Bengalis" and not seen as citizens.
"We respect Leeds United's players. They have taught people not to mix politics and sports," Facebook user Hein Htet wrote on the Myanmar Football Federation page.
"Myanmar should be proud of having such as club come here," added another Facebook user, Nyein Chan Aung.
"After Leeds, we can dream of more famous clubs to come and play here."
The tour now rolls onto Mandalay, where Leeds will play Myanmar's national team on Friday.