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Viewing cable 09RANGOON355, BURMA: CRONIES LAUNCH NEW SOCCER LEAGUE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RANGOON355 2009-06-12 04:04 2010-12-06 15:03 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rangoon
VZCZCXRO7411
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #0355/01 1630447
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 120447Z JUN 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9098
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 2945
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2306
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2044
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 5228
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 2151
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 5519
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 9115
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0782
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6692
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1818
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 2196
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0666
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2495
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 4502
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000355 

SIPDIS 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, INR/EAP, EEB/TFS 
PACOM FOR FPA 
TREASURY FOR OASIA, OFAC 

EO 12958 DECL: 06/12/2019 
TAGS ECON, EFIN, ETRD, PREL, PINR, BM 

SUBJECT: BURMA: CRONIES LAUNCH NEW SOCCER LEAGUE 

REF: RANGOON 330
RANGOON 00000355 001.6 OF 003

Classified By: Economic Officer Samantha A. Carl-Yoder for Reasons 1.4 (b and d).

Summary
------- 

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.

--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 Myanmar National League  2009 Teams
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
Team Owner and Company Sanctions  Subject
--------------------------------------------- ------ 

Kanbawza Aung Ko Win/Kanbawza Bank No
Delta United Zaw Win Shaine/Ayeyar Hintha No  (financially backed by Zaw  Zaw, owner of Max Myanmar Yes
Magway Steven Law/Asia World Co. Yes
Okkthar United Aung Kyaw Moe/Intl Brewery No  Trading Co.
RANGOON 00000355 002.2 OF 003
Zayar Shwe Myay Win Myint/Chair, Myanmar No  Chamber Of Commerce
Yangon United Tay Za/Htoo Trading Yes
Southern Myanmar Htay Myint/Yuzana Co. Yes
Yadanarbon Sai Sam Htun/Loi Hein Co. No  (sole distributor of soft  drinks produced by SOEs)

--------------------------------------------- ------ 

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.

So What’s In it for The Owners?
------------------------------- 

5. (C) When asked why the owners would participate in such an expensive endeavor, XXXXXXXXXXXX  observed that they had little choice. “When the Senior General asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints,” he stated. He then added that several of the businessmen will receive incentives from the regime, such as construction contracts, new gem and jade mines, and import permits, which will more than offset their costs. Sponsorship may also bring its own benefits. XXXXXXXXXXXX  explained that due to advertising associated with the MNL, several owners, including Sai Sam Htun who owns Alpine Water, have seen an immediate increase in business revenue. Several owners have plans to sell team merchandise.  As the league expands, business should boom, although it will take a few years, he concluded.

Early Success
------------- 

6. (C) The MNL to date has been quite successful. Tickets are relatively expensive by Burmese standards, ranging from USD .50 to USD 1, which can be as much as half a day’s salary for the average Burmese. Nevertheless, there has been heavy attendance at most of the games, with several games sold out.  Reportedly though, owners paid up to USD 3 per head to entice fans to the first games, when it looked like ticket
RANGOON 00000355 003.2 OF 003
sales were lagging. Proceeds from the MNL are used to support the MFF. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that for the more popular teams, such as Yadanarbon and Magway, scalpers are able to sell tickets for up to USD 1.50. XXXXXXXXXXXX  commented that given the continued political and economic repression of the people, he understands why they want to spend their money on something enjoyable. For those who cannot afford to attend the games, MRTV (the GOB’s television network) shows the games live. During Saturdays and Sundays at 4pm, local teashops are filled with Burmese watching the games. Additionally, the matches are broadcast on the radio.

MNL: A Distraction or Just Good Fun?
------------------------------------- 

7. (C) While admitting that the MNL is “just good fun,” a number of our contacts question the regime’s motivation behind creating the league. Several have commented that it may be a way for the regime to distract the people from ongoing political and economic problems, or to divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections. Many speculate that the regime will suspend the 2010 MNL cup, should it fall close to the election date, as the government may not want large crowds of people to gather. That remains to be seen. Whatever the reason, the MNL is proving an early success, and something for the Burmese to talk about without threatening the regime.
DINGER