Let’s get off our high horses on Leeds trip

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

WHEN Leeds an­nounced a sum­mer tour of Myan­mar, it was only nat­u­ral to worry: would the fa­cil­i­ties be up to scratch?

But it’s fine. Ev­ery­thing is OK. Ac­cord­ing to the BBC’s Adam Pope, Leeds have checked and the sta­di­ums all com­ply with FIFA stan­dards.

Don’t fret about the play­ers ei­ther. Ap­par­ently, they’ll all be given ‘rel­e­vant’ med­i­cal care to avoid catch­ing the Zika virus.

That’s a re­lief, eh? It seems the folks at El­land Road have thought of ev­ery­thing. Ex­cept, of course, the small issue of sup­port­ing a state al­legedly en­gaged in mass mur­der.

Ac­cord­ing to Medecins sans Fron­tieres, at least 6,700 Ro­hingya peo­ple, in­clud­ing 730 chil­dren un­der the age of five, have been killed by Myan­mar’s state-backed se­cu­rity forces.

Mis­guided

In De­cem­ber, UN Hu­man Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein talked of “killing by ran­dom fir­ing of bul­lets, use of grenades, shoot­ing at close range, stab­bings, beat­ings to death and the burn­ing of houses with fam­i­lies in­side”.

Though the UN is un­will­ing to use the word geno­cide, they have de­scribed the attacks as “a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing”.

Against such a chill­ing back­drop, Leeds’ ap­par­ent fo­cus on the wel­fare of their own fans and play­ers is mis­guided. The big­ger issue must be ad­dressed.

By tak­ing his club to Myan­mar, chair­man An­drea Radriz­zani, whose stated aim is to milk an un­tapped mar­ket, will tac­itly le­git­imise a mur­derthe ous regime. No quan­tity of shirt sales is worth that.

Clearly, Radriz­zani must aban­don this sense­less jolly. Yet be­fore any of us judge the Ital­ian too harshly, let’s all clam­ber off those high horses.

The Leeds owner may well be will­ing to ig­nore hu­man suf­fer­ing in the quest for a fast buck. But so are FIFA, so is the FA, and so is al­most ev­ery­body else in

foot­ball. When Harry Kane, Dele Alli and the rest of the Eng­land team go to Qatar in 2022, they will play in state-of-the-art sta­di­ums. Stay in six-star ho­tels. Train in space-age fa­cil­i­ties. All of them built on the bones of in­den­tured work­ers. As of 2015, an es­ti­mated 1,200 mi­grant labour­ers had died build­ing World Cup in­fras­truc­ture. By the time the tour­na­ment kicks off, char­ity Hu­man Rights Watch be­lieves that num­ber will top 4,000. To put that fig­ure in con­text, World Cup in Brazil saw seven con­struc­tion-re­lated deaths – and that was viewed as high.

Mi­grant work­ers in Qatar are fre­quently kept as mod­ern-day slaves. Sto­ries are le­gion of South Asian men hav­ing their pass­ports con­fis­cated on ar­rival in Doha and or­dered to re­pay ad­min­is­tra­tion ‘fees’ they will never af­ford.

Then, they are packed ten to a room in 50 de­gree heat and forced to slog on con­struc­tion sites un­til, in many cases, their hearts pack up.

Grat­i­tude

My en­gi­neer neigh­bour re­cently re­turned from a site in Qatar and re­counted how he’d of­fered his man­gled copy of The Sun to one such worker. He was met with tears of grat­i­tude and was later in­formed that, for this man, sell­ing that ratty pa­per for a pit­tance rep­re­sented a life-chang­ing op­por­tu­nity. It re­ally is that grim. Yet FIFA sets up im­po­tent ‘task forces’ happy to sat­isfy their con­sciences with stage­m­an­aged in­spec­tions. The FA, along with ev­ery other national fed­er­a­tion, will pocket a tidy fee when their team takes part Play­ers will run where oth­ers col­lapsed. Fans will sit in air-con­di­tioned seats that cost more per unit than any of those work­ers saw in a year. And all of us – me, you, ev­ery fan in the land – will switch on our TVs three times a day to watch a tour­na­ment built on blood and bones. Foot­ball at the high­est lev­els is a squalid busi­ness, rife with greed, cor­rup­tion and wil­ful ig­no­rance. Leeds’ trip to Myan­mar is merely a symp­tom of a far deeper malaise – and we are all com­plicit.

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