Leeds’ Myanmar friendlies signal a wider problem
When Andrea Radrizzani completed his takeover of Leeds United on 23rd May 2017 many fans were skeptical. It was followed two days later by the resignation of Gary Monk, a coach generally perceived to have been doing a good job.
Gradually though, the majority of fans were won over by Radrizzani. He bought back Elland Road, sold to finance the mistakes of previous Chairmen. The summer 2017 transfer window was one of the best in recent Leeds memory with fans excited about signings (even if some have now proven disappointing or problematic) and the general way in which business was conducted.
Radrizzani arrived as a man steeped in a culture of sport as a business first and foremost. To many Leeds fans, though, that was exactly what the club needed after Cellino, a passionate but deeply problematic character who meant headlines but not necessarily success for the club. This new focus on sensible business opportunities, on the club’s brand and shrewd use of marketing opportunities was welcomed.
Today, in announcing that Leeds will play two post-season friendlies in Myanmar, Radrizzani has thrown much of that goodwill away. What’s more - as I’ll go on to explain - this regrettable has been taken in line with the ideals and methods that have seen him achieve success with the club.
Leeds have been rightly criticised for this by far more authoritative voices than my own. Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan, MP for Tooting, wrote to Radrizzani to express her view that, “no UK club or organization should promote a country which carries out state sponsored mass murder. They must rethink it, history will judge them to be on the wrong side of this.”
Amnesty International UK seem to be withholding judgement ahead of the tour, calling it “odd” and explaining that, “far too often sporting events have been used as a cheap PR tool to ‘sportswash’ the stain of a country’s human rights record.” They called on Leeds not to let this become the case here.
More worrying for me than the decision itself was the justification given by Leeds’ managing director Angus Kinnear, who said,
“Myanmar is one of the fastest growing nations in southeast 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.”
This seems to give lie to Amnesty’s hope that Leeds chose to undertake this tour as a way to criticise and challenge the government of Myanmar. Instead, this decision was clearly driven by the instinct to see sport, and especially football, as a business. The same instinct that brought back our stadium, that made us look competent and assured in the transfer market, also drove this decision.
Is this the choice we have as football fans now, to swallow all morals or live forever in chaotic mediocrity? I hope not. But if it is, I’m hoping to get comfy in the Championship.