WikiLeaks: Burmese Dictator Yearned for English Soccer Team

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WikiLeaks has released less than 1,000 of the approximately 250,000 U.S. embassy cables, but we've already had our first mention of a brutal dictator plotting to buy his favorite sports team.

The revelation comes in the June 12, 2009 dispatch from the American embassy in Rangoon in Myanmar, or Burma. Per the cable, Than Shwe--head of the Burmese military junta, and third worst dictator in the world, per Foreign Policy--pondered buying British soccer club Manchester United on the urging of his grandson. Why didn't the, as Time called him last year, "rabidly anti-Western, yet pro-Wayne Rooney," despot follow through on the purchase? The cable reveals all:

The Myanmar Football Federation (MFF), chaired by regime crony Zaw Zaw, launched the Myanmar National Football League on May 16, 2009. The league, the first of its kind, has eight professional teams representing different states and divisions. During the May-July season, teams compete for the National Cup and title of Myanmar National League Champion. The teams are sponsored by regime cronies and businessmen (listed below). According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Zaw Zaw and Than Shwe's grandson created the idea of a professional soccer league more than a year ago but had to obtain the Senior General's support first.One well-connected source reports that the grandson wanted Than Shwe to offer USD 1 billion for Manchester United. The Senior General thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own. In January, Secretary-1 reportedly told select Burmese businessmen that Than Shwe had "chosen" them to be the owners of the new professional soccer teams. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the owners are responsible for paying all costs, including team salaries, housing and transportation, uniform costs, and advertising for the new league. In addition, owners must build new stadiums in their respective regions by 2011, at an estimated cost of USD one million per stadium.

Considering Burma at the time was still reeling from Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in the country, Than Shwe's concerns that paying $1 billion for a soccer team "could look bad" were probably well-founded.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.