Cablegate Chronicles: The Burmese Crony Soccer League

This is an installment from our on-going series on the adventures of American diplomats and the people they monitor. The red button below will take you to another random episode.

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A new soccer league promoted by the Burmese regime enjoys a successful launch.

DATE: JUNE 12, 2009

¶1. (C) On the alleged order of Senior General Than Shwe, regime cronies and businessmen launched the new Myanmar National Football League (MNL) on May 16, 2009. To date, the MNL has been a huge success, with high attendance and wide national TV and radio coverage. It is unclear if there is any political motivation behind the MNL, although many Burmese businessmen speculate the regime is using it as a way to distract the populace from ongoing political and economic problems. End Summary.

Let the Games Begin -------------------

¶2. (C) 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.

¶3. (C) The eight teams currently practice and play in Rangoon; by 2011, the MNL should have a nationwide presence, XXXXXXXXXXXX stated. The teams have an average of 40 players and salaries range from between USD 500-2000 a month, depending on the caliber of the players. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that Steven Law's Magway team pays the highest salaries, spending USD 155,000 a month, while Win Myint's Zayar Shwe Myay team only spends USD 52,200 a month on salaries. Tay Za, Aung Ko Win, and Steven Law also pay their players high signing bonuses, XXXXXXXXXXXX stated. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX , Aung Ko Win, owner of the Kanbawza team, has budgeted USD 2 million for the 2009 season. Other owners will spend approximately the same amount, he noted.

¶4. (C) Several of the team owners have taken their obligations seriously, XXXXXXXXXXXX stated. For example, Tay Za has hired five players from Africa; and Zaw Zaw, who financially backs the Delta United team despite being Chair of the MFF, recruited several Argentinean players. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that Aung Kyaw Moe, owner of Okkthar United Team and the International Brewery Trade Co. (which produces Myanmar Beer and Grand Royal Whiskey), is currently sponsoring the July 2009 National Cup. Tay Za's Air Bagan allegedly plans to host the next cup, XXXXXXXXXXXX stated.

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