Burma

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One of the world's most isolated countries; despite a population of close to 50 million, only an estimated 10,000 have access to the Internet (source: Reporters sans frontières).



Lord Louis Mountbatten, interim governor-general of India, and Lady Mountbatten walk in stocking feet following the custom of removing shoes in a temple during their visit to the Schwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, March 22, 1948. The main spire of the pagoda, largest Buddhist pagoda in the world, is covered with gold leaf. (AP)

Andrew Marshall, in his book The Trouser People: A Story of Burma in the Shadow of Empire (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint; London: Penguin, 2002), has retraced the journeys of Englishman George Scott, Burma's "Father of Football" (see the Global Game's review). Marshall also surveys contemporary football, according to reviewer Brian Bennett ("Power Plays: In Search of Burmese Football's Footprints," Time Asia, 11 March 2002): "The football stadium is the only place in Burma where five thousand rabblerousers can jeer, 'Fool, fool, fool!' at a member of the government without being hauled off to the stockade." ("Trouser people" refers to the Burmese appellation for the British colonialists, who—modern-day sarong fancier David Beckham excluded—wore pants. The Global Game has reprinted an article on the Burmese game, which originally appeared in Thailand-based politics and culture magazine The Irrawaddy (Shawn L. Nance, "Caught Offside," April 2002).

The Burmese sport and football press, along with the entire national media, seems to be under the military junta's scrutiny. As reported by Reporters sans frontières, the editor and three staff members of journal First Eleven were detained in July 2003, allegedly for inquiries into Burmese football's international connections; they were later sentenced to death on charges of treason. RSF and the Burma Media Association appealed the sentences on 22 April 2004, the RSF stating in a press release that editor Zaw Thet Htwe's "arrest is believed linked to the success of his sports magazine, which specialises in football, and its independent editorial line.
Zaw Thet Htwe.
It carried one article in particular on a donation of four million dollars from the international community to promote football in Burma. First Eleven questioned what use the money had been put to." (RSF has since published its full report on Burma in its annual assessment of press freedoms around the world.) Zaw Thet Htwe's death sentence was commuted on 12 May 2004, and he was released from prison in January 2005. Now, given scrutiny from censors, he concentrates on writing films and videos (see summary at playthegame.org).

Both the dictatorship and opposition, however, appeared to applaud the Burmese team's rise in form at the 2004 Tiger Cup, at which the side reached the semifinals for the first time since 1996. In The Irrawaddy, Wai Moe reported that some 6,000 supported the team in its group-stage match against hosts Malaysia, some hoisting the fighting-peacock flag of the democracy movement ("Soccer and Burmese Nationalism," 17 Dec 2004).

The Library of Congress hosts a handy resource page with links to information on Burmese politics and culture. For a survey of assaults on, deaths of and legal actions related to sports journalism—regularly updated—see the article at playthegame.org (Kirsten Sparre, "The Dangers of Sports Journalism").

Page last updated on Wednesday, November 23, 2005 11:02 -0500 GMT. To add a resource and/or link to this page, or to report a broken link, please e-mail The Global Game.