Human rights activists and observers have welcomed Australia’s decision to deny a Burmese soccer team visas to play in the country amid concerns over its ties to the military junta.
Myanmar’s Shan United FC was scheduled to play Sydney’s Macarthur FC on Nov. 30 as part of the AFC Cup, Asia’s secondary football club tournament organized by the Asian Football Confederation, but was notified days earlier that its players and staff would not be granted entry to Australia.
While neither Australia’s Home Affairs Department nor Football Australia provided an official reason for the refusal, human rights groups have previously pointed to links between Shan United and Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat that has put the country into a protracted civil war.
Shan United team owner Khun Naung Myint is the chairman of Wa Min Corporation – a partner of the Myanma Economic Corporation, which is owned by the Myanmar military. The Australian government imposed financial sanctions on Myanma Economic Corporation in February.
The decision drew applause from the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, or SAC-M, composed of former human rights representatives of the United Nations, in a statement which described Khun Naung Myint as “a crony with deep ties to the illegal Myanmar military junta.”
“The decision to bar entry to Shan United football club, which came ahead of its scheduled football match against Sydney-based Macarthur FC in Australia, is a modest but welcome step by the Australian Government to hold accountable those who benefit from their association with Myanmar’s criminal military,” the statement said.
The council urged Australia’s government to take “more meaningful action to hold the Myanmar military accountable,” by imposing further targeted financial sanctions on the junta, its general, and affiliated entities.
Political commentator Than Soe Naing told RFA Burmese that as an opponent of the military regime that has welcomed anti-junta groups to organize activities within its borders, “it is logical and justifiable that the Australian government has decided not to allow soccer clubs or other sports teams owned by pro-junta cronies to take part in sporting events in its country.”
Ahead of the match, more than 400 human rights groups, including the Myanmar Campaign Network, had sent an open letter to Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong calling on her administration to level severe sanctions against the junta.
Myanmar activists in Australia had also called for the Australian government to deny Shan United’s players and staff entry visas.
The refusal also followed objections from human rights groups over Macarthur’s decision to play Shan United in a first round match of the AFC Cup at Thuwunna Football Stadium in Yangon in September, noted a Yangon-based soccer analyst, who declined to be named, citing security concerns.
“As the owner of Shan United FC has close business ties to Myanma Economic Corporation, I think Australia’s decision to deny them entry visas was in line with their sanctions,” the analyst said.
Shan United’s management and players declined to comment on the entry visa refusal when contacted by RFA. Attempts to contact the Australian Embassy in Yangon for comment on the reason behind the denial went unanswered Friday.
The move forced Macarthur to play what would have been a home match at Sydney’s Campbelltown Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, at BG Stadium – the home of Thai Super League club BG Pathum United. Macarthur faced AFC penalties if they forfeited the match.
Macarthur shellacked Shan United 4-0 on goals from Daniel De Silva, Jake Hollman, Tomislav Uskok and Jerry Skotadis in a lopsided match which saw the Australian club maintain possession for nearly two-thirds of total playing time.
While Shan United is at the top of the ranks in the Myanmar National League, the team has yet to secure a win in the the AFC Cup, which draws its competitors from 47 associations in the Asian Football Confederation. In five matches, the team has drawn once and lost four times.
It will play its sixth and final game of the AFC Cup group stage against Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Crown on Dec. 14.
Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.
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