Let’s get off our high horses on Leeds trip
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.
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.
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.