By MIN LWIN
The military government’s move to introduce the first professional football league in Burma may be a political tactic linked to the 2010 national elections, according to observers in Rangoon.
Senior officials have regularly attempted to create a national football league in recent years, sources said. But it wasn’t until junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe gave his support for the plan in March that the soccer league was finally given the green light and bids were tendered to allow leading businessmen to sponsor soccer clubs.
“It is quite obvious that the government wants the public to vote for military-sponsored parties in next year’s election,” said one observer. “It will therefore provide things that the public like, such as football and pagodas.
“In that way, they can grab everyone’s attention,” he said.
The military authorities have approved the founding of eight new soccer clubs, which will represent eight different regions of the country. Four of the clubs will play in the Northern League while four others compete in the Southern League. The first matches of the National League Cup will be contested on May 16.
The Northern League teams are:
• Yadanarpone FC, representing Mandalay Division (owned/ sponsored/ chaired by Dr Sai Sam Htun of drinking water company Alpine);
• Magway FC, representing Magwe Division (owned by Tun Myint Naing, managing director of construction company Asia World);
• Zeya Shwe Myay FC, representing Sagaing Division (owned by Win Myint of Shwe Nager Min);
• Kanbawza FC, representing Shan State (owned by Aung Ko Win, chairman of Kanbawza Bank).
The Southern League teams are:
• Yangon United FC, representing Rangoon Division (owned by tycoon Tay Za of Htoo Trading Co.);
• Okkthar United FC, representing Pegu Division (owned by Aung Moe Kyaw, owner of IBTC whisky distillery);
• Southern Myanmar United FC, representing Tenasserim Division (owned by Htay Myint, head of Yuzana real estate firm);
• Delta United FC, representing Irrawaddy Division (owned by Chit Khaing of Eden, a leading construction and exploration company).
Each professional club was reputedly formed for a minimum of 200 million kyat (US $204,080), according to newspapers in Rangoon. The investment apparently covers costs such as salaries, transportation and equipment, but does not include the clubs stadiums, which are all nationalized.
Although the inaugural soccer league kicks off in just a few weeks, not everyone is impressed.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, a sports journal editor in Rangoon said, “Each soccer club is located in a different region, because the club chairman will be expected to deal with and influence local people in the campaign leading up to next year’s election.
“But I am not sure if people will be interested in this government ploy,” he said. “I think Burmese football supporters would rather stay home and watch English Premier League football on TV.”