Offshore money - Kyaw Kyaw Maung , Myanmar’s Central Bank chairman has confirmed recent claims that the government holds billions of dollars of foreign reserves in overseas bank accounts. He said that a total US $7.6 billion was kept offshore by Myanmar state-owned and private banks. These are foreign exchange reserves and include national budget funds as well as privately-held accounts but declined to specify in which offshore locations and banks the $7.6 billion were held. He also failed to clarify exactly how much of these funds were government-owned and how much was in private company hands. The Central Bank, the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank and the Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, are among the government institutions that have overseas foreign reserves adding that several private Myanmar banks also owned part of the $7.6 billion.
Smart ID cards - Government plans to replace the current paper National Registration Card issued to Myanmar citizens with a “smarter” digital identification card are being planned but cost and the lack of infrastructure are holding back a rollout. Foreign companies from Thailand, Japan, China and Korea are in talks with the government regarding the project. The current ID card was issued according to the Myanmar Citizenship Law, enacted in 1982 and needs to be replaced in line with international standards. The current ID card, only costs about six kyats or less than 1 US cent whilst a smart card would cost at least US$1, about 1,000 kyats. National Registration Cards, also known as citizenship scrutiny cards, are issued to Myanmar nationals by the Immigration and National Registration Department.
Aung San Suu Kyii on the Army and the Constitution - Speaking on the 25th anniversary of her party’s founding, Aung San Suu Kyi called for greater collaboration between civil society groups and the military to promote national reconciliation after decades of military rule. “Civilian groups are not in touch with the Tatmadaw,” the 68-year-old lawmaker said at a press conference at the Yangon headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, referring to the military. “It is a big challenge, not only for me, but for the entire country, as it will lay the foundations of national reconciliation.” Party members and foreign diplomats came out to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the party’s founding on September 27th, 1988. More than 500 people attended, with hundreds more lining the streets outside. Suu Kyi also reiterated calls for constitutional change before the upcoming 2015 election. The Constitution currently reserves 25 percent of the seats in Parliament for military representatives and makes Suu Kyi ineligible for presidency. “If we do not change the Constitution, we cannot say our country is really a democracy,” she said. “If we hold an election with an unfair Constitution, the result will also be unfair.” One of the country’s most prominent democracy activists, Min Ko Naing, also spoke at the anniversary event on Friday. He called for younger NLD members to develop leadership skills. “The new generation needs to learn from the experiences and cooperative leadership of their seniors,” said the founder of the 88 Generation Students group. The NLD won 43 of 44 seats it contested in by-elections last year. It has been urged to reorganize and diversify its leadership, which is dominated by older party members.
And in Singapore - Aung San Suu Kyi said that Myanmar will not enjoy “real democracy” until the country changes its Constitution in a speech to Singapore’s Burmese community during a recent visit. Suu Kyi, who is a parliamentarian and chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), spoke in front of more than 5,000 people from Myanmar, linking constitutional change to the future of the transitioning nation. “Our country needs to have rule of law and peace, and needs to change the Constitution. If there is no change to the Constitution … it will be difficult to have peace and rule of law. Then, our country will have no real democracy. “I always say this whenever I meet government officials who were formerly of the military regime. … I tell them that I hope both sides can sit down and make changes to the Constitution.” During her visit to the fellow ASEAN member state, Suu Kyi met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and was keynote speaker at a separate lecture series on leadership in Asia. Suu Kyi made her trip to Singapore on the return leg of a visit to the Czech Republic, where she met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and spoke at a conference on “societies in transition.” “Our Constitution has been written by only a few elected representatives of the people, and most people were from the military dictatorship,” she said. “This is how it has been different from other countries. This needs to change.”
Loans from China - Myanmar is planning to borrow a total of US$2.3 billion from China to finance 22 infrastructure projects in 2013-14. The loans are to be used in. telecommunications, electricity, construction, agriculture, finance and industry. The .projects for the financial sector include one to provide micro credit loans for small and medium enterprises, and establishing a SME bank while the telecom project will distribute mobile SIM cards in rural areas across Myanmar. Five power-line projects and a natural gas power plant will be funded by the loans from China as will the new Yangon-Mandalay highway, public housing and other construction projects, including 16 new bridges. In addition two large-scale low-cost housing projects in the Yangon suburban areas of Yadana and Ayeyarwun will be partly financed by loans from the Chinese EXIM bank .
High Costs make investors reflect – Although Myanmar has approved more foreign direct investment in the past five months than for the whole of last year, companies setting up operations in the hot frontier market are facing a growing problem: Southeast Asia’s highest office rental rates. Myanmar has approved FDI projects worth more than $1.8 billion from the start of the fiscal year on April 1 to the end of August, compared with $1.4 billion in the whole previous fiscal year. But fears persist that potential foreign investors will be put off by a severe shortage of office rental space. The wave of investment comes as Myanmar’s government implements political and economic reforms, initiated two years ago by President Thein Sein, a former general who led the country out 49 years of military rule and global isolation. The European Union agreed in April to lift all sanctions on Myanmar, while the United States suspended sanctions in May last year and allowed U.S. companies to invest through a general license. Most of the approved FDI came from other Asian nations. Malaysia, with $500 million for manufacturing Nissan cars, is the biggest investor during this fiscal year followed by Hong Kong and South Korea, who iunvested in the garment industry. Nissan Motor Co plans to start a complete knock down production of its cars in Myanmar with a Malaysian partner Tan Chong Motor Holdings Bhd, becoming the first major global carmaker to be assembling cars in Myanmar. The rising tide of foreign investment is fuelling a property boom in the commercial capital Yangon with the increasing demand for rental space feeding the highest office rental rates of any Southeast Asian city.
Japan gears up - Japan has been stepping up economic cooperation with Myanmar as the country’s reform process continues. For the past three months, such cooperation and engagement covered a wide range of sectors. In June, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) provided an Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan of Yen 51billionto Myanmar, of which 17 billion yen was to be used for construction and renovation of infrastructure to reduce poverty in a variety of regions and states, Yen 20 billion for development of infrastructure in Thilawa Special Economic Zone and Yen 14.05 billion for upgrading the power grid and power stations in Yangon. More loans were offered for upgrading Yangon's water supply system which were expected to run under another 40 billion yens' grant aid and technical assistance. Meanwhile, nine Myanmar public companies and a consortium of three Japanese firms comprising Mitsubishi, Marubeni and Sumitomo agreed on the development of Myanmar's Thilawa SEZ. Also in June, the Nippon Foundation of Japan also agreed with Myanmar's Ministry of Border Affairs to run a five-year program of training Myanmar staff starting this year. To promote human resources development in the country, a Myanmar-Japan Center was opened with Japanese experts giving training to Myanmar government officials and employees from industrial and economic sectors. Myanmar and Japan also agreed to cooperate in combating tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria. In the trade sector, Myanmar and Japan had a total trade volume of 1.50 billion U.S. dollars in the fiscal year 2012-13, of which Myanmar's import from Japan took 1.09 billion dollars, while its export stood at 406.49 million dollars. Japan's investment in Myanmar amounted to 270.28 million U.S. dollars as of March 2013 since Myanmar opened to such investment in late 1988 and stands the 11th in Myanmar's foreign investment line-up.
Yatanapom to become a Public Company - Yatanapon Teleport is planning to raise a total of Ks 1 trillion (over US$1 billion) as it changes from a wholly state-owned enterprise to the public company. Yatanapon Teleport is one of two local competitors for the recently appointed foreign mobile operators in Myanmar - Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo - who acquired nationwide telecom licenses in the recent government tender. Among Yatanapon Teleport’s board of directors are prominent local businessmen including owners of local IT firms and Tun Myint Naing, who is managing director of the country’s largest conglomerate, Asia World Company. A total of Ks 35 billion (US$36 million) is to be raised as the initial capital, and there are already 23 directors on the board each of whom owns a stake in the company. State-owned Yatanapon Teleport, along with another state-owned enterprise, Myanmar Post and Telecommunications, has had monopoly in Myanmar telecom market for ages.
Problems at Myanmar Brewery - Singapore-based Fraser and Neave Ltd (F&N) has been accused of breaching its joint-venture agreement with Myanmar partner the military owned conglomerate, Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL). UMEHL said F&N unilaterally sold its shares in their jointly-owned Myanmar Brewery Ltd to TCC (Chang Beer) without being informed. This is against their agreement and UMEHL intends to acquire all of F&N’s shares in accordance with the joint-venture agreement. Myanmar Brewery Ltd is the leading company in Myanmar’s beer market. F&N owns 55% and UMEHL 45% of the firm. The company was first established by Singapore-based Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) and UMEHL . In 1996, APB sold its stake to F&N because of the Western economic sanctions against Myanmar. UMEHL said, according to the joint-venture agreement, if F&N wishes to sell UMEHL must be given the first option to buy, and any share transfer or sale also requires the other partner’s formal consent. F&N’s failure to meet the agreement terms had been officially protested within 90 days in accordance with the joint-venture contract. Apparently the audit firm CMA started work on a share valuation of Myanmar Brewery Ltd but F&N and UMEHL could not reach an agreement over the valuation and decided to go to arbitration. Nevertheless, UMEHL said they would acquire the shares from F&N in accordance with the joint-venture agreement. UMEHL also criticized TCC (Chang Beer) for not involving them in the proposed transaction.
On a shoestring - Some companies choose to rent houses and villas in lieu of office space, said Brett Miller, Scipio Services’ managing director. But residential rates have also shot up, with villas ranging in price from $4,000 per month to $25,000, he said. As a result, some companies “are coming in with a small footprint,” stationing only skeleton staff in the country, he said. Other companies base executives in neighboring Thailand and fly them to Yangon where they stay at hotels, said Tony Picon, Colliers’ managing director in Myanmar. “I call them the ‘half-pats’, spending around half their time in Yangon,” he said. Aung Naing Oo said the government is taking measures to increase the supply of rental space. “To solve the problem of the shortage of hotel and office apartments, we are now encouraging investors in these sectors by approving their proposals very speedily,” he said. Drastic rises in property prices are being driven partly by land speculators. Miller at Scipio Services said the government could implement a “holding tax” that would encourage landowners to either build on a property or sell it to a developer. Picon, however, was skeptical the government could enforce compliance. “For tax on unused land, the owner could build something small and say the land is being used,” he said. “Overall I find using tax often counterproductive especially when you have limited capacity within government to enforce laws.”
Nissan Assembly - Nissan Motor Company will start production of the Sunny sedan in Myanmar with a Malaysian partner in 2015, becoming the first major global carmaker to assemble cars in Myanmar. Nissan’s Malaysian partner Tan Chong Motor Holdings Bhd will build a plant in the Pegu district, some 70 km northeast Yangon, with an annual capacity of over 10,000 vehicles. The companies will use parts sourced from Thailand, India, China and Japan as well as by local suppliers. Global carmakers are rushing to set up in the Myanmar, which until recently was under international economic sanctions. Earlier this year, Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp, a smaller carmaker, resumed production of vehicles in Myanmar for the first time in three years, manufacturing about 100 small trucks a month. In July, Nissan and Tan Chong Motor opened Nissan’s first showroom in Myanmar, where they sell pickup trucks and vans as well as provide after service and spare parts.
Micro Finance expansion - Cambodia-based ACLEDA MFI Myanmar Company Ltd is planning to provide loans up to Ks8 billion to SMEs in Myanmar, according to its CEO Kim Bunsocheat. ACLEDA Myanmar company raised about Ks1 billion (US$1 million) as the initial investment in the microfinance business early this year and it is now going to expand up to Ks8 billion. “We will offer two different types of loans -- individual and group loans. Group loans will be prioritized. A group will consist of two to five persons. In giving loans, each will be lent Ks100,000 [US$1,00] at the interest rate of 2.5 percent. After group loans, individual loans are offered,” he said. SME owners are required to show a document that proves ownership of the property and other official papers like the national registration card to get loans at the ACLEDA Myanmar. ACLEDA Myanmar was established on February 18, 2013, and it has 30 branch offices across the country. Founded in 1993 as a national NGO for micro and small enterprise development, ACLEDA Bank is now the major commercial bank of Cambodia. It is partially owned by the international associations such as International Finance Corporation, a division of the World Bank, and the COFIBRED, a subsidiary of the French banking group BRED Banque Populaire.
More MICE in Myanmar - Under a newly revised business strategy to launch a new event park in Myanmar, Thai Company, Index Creative Village has linked up with a venue operator for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events in Yangon, looking to take advantage of increasing demand from overseas investors. Focusing on major events - the ASEAN Chairmanship 2014 and Tourism Year in 2015 - the company, and business partner Forever Group, will jointly invest Bt200 million in the Myanmar Event Park (MEP), 20,000 square metres in the heart of the business district. Forever Group is a leading entertainment company based in Yangon. Forever Group has a three-year licence from Myanmar's Defence Ministry to use the land located near the former parliament building in the central business district. The MEP will comprise three zones. The Main Hall will be for indoor functions covering 6,000sqm. This hall will be equipped with leading audio-visual technology for conventions, exhibitions and trade fairs. A 2,805sqm area will be used for outdoor activities and a 3,570sqm public park zone will be used for recreation and outdoor social functions. The venue will be able to accommodate 15,000 delegates for a concert, or 30,000 visitors and 300 booths for an exhibition. To introduce the first phase of the new MICE venue, the company will organise a festival in the second week of December and a Myanmar Countdown 2014 event at the end of the year. There are currently four key venues for MICE events in Myanmar: Yangon's Myanmar Convention Centre, Tatmadaw Hall and Minder Ground; and Nay Pyi Taw's Myanmar International Convention Centre.
CB Bank to issue prepaid debit cards - Myanmar’s Central Bank has given Cooperative Bank the green light to issue internationally accepted prepaid debit cards, in a first for the country’s antiquated financial system. The “Easi Travel” prepaid card was made available recently for pre-order, and customers are being told that the cards will be ready by Oct. 1. CB Bank, which will be the nation’s first lender to issue the cards, is working with MasterCard to bring the service to its customers. The card has already been tested at banks in Thailand, Singapore, China and the United Kingdom. CB Bank—chaired by presidential advisor Khin Maung Aye—has also agreed to work with Visa, and will begin development of a similar Visa-branded card after the MasterCard version has been rolled out. Some of Myanmar’s other banks, including Asia Green Development (AGD) Bank and KBZ Bank, are being more cautious citing continued problems with the international banking market and yet to be fully lifted US sanctions.
Nestle to Open a Factory - Nestle has established a subsidiary in Myanmar and will soon build a production factory in the country, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA). Nestle Myanmar was formed on September 16 according to DICA. The firm produces a wide range of goods, several of which are already available in stores in Myanmar but it’s not clear yet which will be produced in Myanmar
World Bank loan - Back in Myanmar after a 20-year absence, the World Bank has approved an interest-free US$140 loan to fund a power plant in Mon State, the bank’s first international investment project in the country since re-engaging last year. The gas turbine plant in Thaton Township, a four-hour drive from Yangon, will have a capacity of 106 megawatts of electricity, covering half the peak demand in Mon State and 5 percent of peak demand in the country. The Ministry of Electric Power will receive the 40-year loan, of which $130 will go toward the establishment of the plant and $10 million toward technical support. The natural gas-fired plant will improve access to reliable electricity in Mon State as well as Yangon Division and the Irrawaddy delta area. It is intended to support Myanmar’s goal of providing universal access to electricity by 2030. The World Bank expects to call for tenders for the project next month. Due to decades of underinvestment in electricity infrastructure 77 percent of the total population—including in urban areas—lacks access, according to statistics from the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network. According to figures from the Yangon Electricity Supply Board, Myanmar as a whole uses 1,500 megawatts of electricity annually, of which Yangon consumes 720 megawatts.
Culture and Tourism
Flight to Moulmein - With demand for flights into Myanmar rising, Thailand’s Nok Air will launch a new route from the Thai border town of Mae Sot to the Mon State capital of Moulmein. Budget tickets priced between US$55 and $80 will be available for the 25-minute flight, with travelers able to pay in Burmese kyat, Thai baht or US dollars. The new air route will greatly reduce travel time between the Thai border town and Moulmein, which currently takes more than six hours overland. The Mae Sot-Moulmein flight is expected to largely benefit Thai tourists and pilgrims who travel to Mon State for a glimpse of Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, also known as Golden Rock. Nok Air will also launch a new route on Oct. 1 from Mae Sot to Yangon. As the budget airline of Thai Airways International, Nok Air services 100 flights a day in Thailand. Meanwhile, fellow budget airliner AirAsia has announced plans to launch regular flights from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport to Naypyidaw. The move by AirAsia comes a week after Thai airline Bangkok Airways said it would become the first international carrier to fly directly to the Myanmar capital.
IHT at breakfast time - “Myanmar readers will be able to enjoy the IHT at breakfast starting from Sept. 23,” said Myo Aung, the owner of Success International Publisher’s Distributor Co., Ltd., which has the permission from the IHT’s parent company, as well as the Burmese government, to print and distribute the paper six days a week in Myanmar. The IHT has more than a dozen printing-sites across Asia, and Myanmar is the latest. “Printed in Myanmar” will be clearly printed on the front page. The paper printed in Yangon will not be much different from its counterparts in other countries, except it will not be in color. The cost of the Yangon-printed edition has not yet been set.
Saving the Ayewaddy dolphin - Myanmar will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for a second five-year plan to save Ayeyawady dolphins, according to Khin Maung Aye, Deputy Minister for Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development. The birth rate for Ayeyawady dolphins has decreased dramatically because of undisciplined fishing in Myanmar’s seawaters. At present, there are only about 70 Ayeyawady dolphins in the country. The dolphin birth rate typically declines when fishermen work in restricted areas, or fish with boats that use electric batteries. Last year, there were 22 dolphins in the Ayeyawady Dolphin Conservation Area. Between January and August of this year, four have died.
Beauty Queen - Myanmar model Khin Lapyae Zaw will compete in Miss Tourism Queen International (TQI) to be held in Xianning. The 18-year-old model Khin Lapyae Zaw, who is a university student majoring mathematics, was selected to represent Myanmar after winning a local photo beauty contest for Miss TQI 2013 pageant program. Whilst this is the first time Myanmar competes in Miss TQI competition which has been held in China since 2004 it is not the first time that Myanmar fans have flocked to the internet to vote for their national favourite. Another Myanmar model Khin Wint Wah was chosen in the Top 20 finalist and won Miss Internet of Miss Supranational 2013 contest, which was held in Minsk, Belarus on Sept. 6. Last year at the Miss International 2012 in Okinawa, Nang Khin Zayer won the Miss Internet and the People's Choice award, receiving 94 percent of the total votes cast online. At present, Myanmar is preparing to participate in Miss Universe beauty contest, one of the three largest beauty pageants in the world, to be held in November 2013 in Moscow. This is Myanmar's first participation in Miss Universe Contest after a 50 year gap.
More foreign train travelers - The number of foreign tourists travelling by train from Yangon Central Railway Station has nearly doubled since last year, according to the Ministry of Rail Transportation. A total of 21,524 foreign tourists have travelled by train in Myanmar between January and August of this year, compared to just over 12,000 tourists during the same period last year. “The number of foreigner arrivals has been increasing yearly because Myanmar is now in an era of openness after changes in policy. Part of the increase is due to the fact we are placing a higher priority on welcoming foreigners, and part of it is because more foreigners are interested in studying Myanmar’s shift toward democracy,” Most of this increase can be explained by foreigners now travelling the circle route around Yangon, a three hour journey, after it appeared in TripAdvisor as an “interesting thing to do”!
Bagan - A UNESCO site? - UNESCO has offered to assist in drafting a master plan for the upkeep and administration of the Bagan historical park in line with international standards. The government wishes to get Bagan, with over 3,000 ancient buildings built between 1,000 AD and 1,400 AD, onto the World Heritage list. The government is planning to transform Bagan into historical park, according to the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library under the Ministry of Culture. UNESCO will provide assistance for the Master Plan but work hasn’t started yet. UNESCO had helped preserve the ancient heritage iof Bagan until about two decades ago. Now it is helping to list Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra, the three ancient Pyu towns and Bagan on World Heritage list.
Myanmar’s ‘Beautiful Game’- An abridged version of an article that appeared in Mizzima recently
Myanmar's professional football league is in some ways a nutshell of the country itself: burgeoning with potential, still sketchy in places and with a “have” and “have not” gulf between top and bottom. The MNL (Myanmar National League), which began in 2009 as a reinvention of the Myanmar Premier League inaugurated in 1996, is still finding its feet in professional and competitive competition. As an emerging football market, the sport is unrivalled for popularity in Myanmar and no other sport comes close. If it follows other Southeast Asian nations in harnessing what Myanmar is missing - large and loyal fan-bases and committing to FIFA-backed youth development - the MNL could become a starting place for rising stars as well as a way to unite the country. Sitting in the stands of the Aung San stadium in downtown Yangon, however, watching players lug a ball back and forth about a waterlogged pitch during the rainy season recently shows that this is not yet a beautiful game. The monsoon season wreaks havoc on the non-artificial surfaces that are de rigueur in European stadiums. Myanmar’s fans would rather watch English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A and maybe even Ligue 1 at a stretch than go and watch their own league football slog it out on the pitch.
Marring the climax of the 2013 Myanmar National League (MNL) season, marking its fourth year in existence, the final league game of the season on between league champions Yangon United and second place Naypyitaw FC did not reach half time as disorder and destruction erupted in the stands and eventually spilled onto the pitch at the brand new 30,000-seater Wunna Theikdi stadium in Naypyitaw. The arena was built ahead of December’s 2013 SEA Games and is planned to be the centerpiece of the games in Myanmar’s capital, staging the opening and closing ceremonies. The fighting, although blamed on a section of drunken fans amongst the 20,000 attendees, revealed persisting problems that put question marks over the MNL’s ability to curb crowd violence to create a safe spectator environment ahead of the first international sporting event to take place in Myanmar in this new era. Yangon fans and players claim it was solely the wrongdoing of Naypyitaw fans. The fans who tore up seats and invaded the pitch getting within “one meter” of Yangon United players were, as one player said, “jealous” of Yangon pipping their team to the post to win a third consecutive league title. Myanmar Football Federation spokesman, Soe Moe, told AFP that 150 seats had been destroyed and a stage area damaged. What happened at the final game held in Naypyitaw was an embarrassing display of juvenile mentality that unfortunately still permeates the league, as fighting broke out between players. One Naypyitaw player, Khine Htoo, displayed a martial arts-inspired kick at a Yangon United player’s face. He has been banned for the entirety of next season. Yangon United coaching staff were also targeted. Naypyitaw midfielder Zaw Lin will not be allowed to feature for the first five matches of next season as well as being fined 500,000 Kyat. Tin Zaw Moe and second-choice goalkeeper Zaw Myo Oo also face five-match bans, both with 200,000 kyat fines. The team’s technical director also faces a fine of 500,000 kyat. Yangon’s only penalized player is a rising star Kyi Lin. He faces a three-match ban and a fine of 500,000 kyat. It was a sight that must have left organizers and officials with their heads in their hands after successfully annulling their ban from the World Cup 2018 qualifying rounds imposed after serious crowd problems at home in Myanmar against Oman in 2010.
During the Premier League season people will gather round the TV to see Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, eyes glued to the screen like insects to the streetlights. Myanmar’s football story mirrors that of the country’s political story of the past 50 years. Once known as ‘the rice bowl of Asia’ for being the world’s largest exporter of the commodity, Myanmar became the region’s poorest and one of the world’s most isolated countries with two long consecutive military controlled dictatorships. But what is not as well known is Myanmar’s past glories as a footballing powerhouse in Asia. The national side was not the minnow it is now during the 1960s and early 1970s, coming runners-up in the 1968 Asian Nations Cup. Burma, as it was then called, was crowned football champions of the SEA Games five times between 1965 and 1973. Burma’s appearances at the Asian Games were also respectable, winning twice in 1966 and 1970. International isolation brought with it a bleak footballing abyss. Meanwhile, Japan and Korea soared in the football stakes and eventually co-hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002. Myanmar did not even enter the qualifying stages. They failed to qualify for the group stages ahead of both South Africa 2010 and next year’s tournament in Brazil. Two years prior to transition to the quasi-civilian led government, new life was breathed into the rusty lungs of Myanmar’s domestic football scene with the creation of the Myanmar National League (MNL). Big investment and strong commitments from the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) have brought an increasingly professional-looking league that consists of fourteen clubs from around the country. MUTV, Manchester United’s in-house TV channel will go live in Myanmar in a deal with SkyNet, a local broadcaster that’s also acquired the rights to show the premier league 2013-14 and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Will an ageing legend come to a Myanmar club in the near future? It’s unlikely but if Myanmar follows the model laid before them by neighboring Thailand and Malaysia and club owners are prepared to offer vast sums of money in salaries then it’s not a distant dream. Neither is an English Premier League Club visiting on tour. This summer has seen Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Sunderland, and Manchester City play in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. But more importantly the question is whether MNL clubs are focusing enough on producing homegrown players with enough quality to energize a league to rival other Asian leagues and re-invigorate a woeful national side. The country’s best ever FIFA world ranking was 97th in April 1996 but in July of this year they were placed at 163rd - one behind the Solomon Islands and just ahead of Gambia – indicating their dribbling skills were more in line with babies than David Beckham’s nifty moves. Myanmar faces many obstacles before it can be a truly professional league. With most of the league games taking place in Yangon, some teams have never played a league game on home turf. With 60 million people, Myanmar is in desperate need for focus on building academies thereby investing in the sustainability of the league. “Ten to fifteen years” is how long some MNL coaches believe it will take for the league to overcome its obstacles and banish its growing pains.
According to Fifa.com, since 2001 FIFA has invested more than US$2 million in Myanmar’s football development through the implementation of the four Goal projects. To produce more Kyaw Ko Kos and Kyi Lins it is projects such as these that the country must focus on, not as a token piece but as the bedrock of the national team, if not solely for the MNL’s benefit.
Business tycoon U Tay Za, owner of Htoo Group, created Yangon United FC as one of the founding MNL clubs. The club’s shirt sponsor Air Bagan, one of Myanmar’s leading domestic and regional airlines, is Tay Za’s airline. His son, Phyo Tay Za, is the club’s chairman. Since 2009, he has pumped a considerable amount of money into improving the image and facilities of Yangon’s sole representative in the Myanmar National League (MNL).
Yangon United has added glamour to the league and in some respects is the envy of many in the league with its training facilities that include its own private ground with an artificial asphalt layered pitch at the Yangon United Sports Complex. Add to the mix a well kitted out private gym and outdoor swimming pool.
KBZ Bank, one the largest banks in Myanmar, owns KBZ FC who have remained one of the more successful clubs in Myanmar since they were founded in 2005. They have since been attracting some of the best foreign imports and local talent rivaling Yangon. Their coach, P.N.Sivaji is the former Head Coach of Singapore. The club’s home ground Taunggyi Stadium at the town of Taunggyi, near Inle Lake in central Myanmar still only has a 7,000 capacity and no academy.
At the grounds
For the time being Myanmar’s football clubs attract few supporters despite the sport having such strong following throughout the country. The reasons blamed for low turnout are the relatively high ticket prices, and games being played mostly midweek and in the searing afternoon heat. The average attendance in the MNL is only 1,000 in Yangon and 5,000 in Mandalay. One of the FIFA Goal Projects was to create international standard stands at the Thuwana Sports Stadium. The budget for the project was $655,396 financed jointly by FIFA and FAP (FIFA’s Financial Assistance Program) with Guangdong Province Dong Fang Import and Export Company contracted for the renovations.Although the stadium’s capacity is 50,000 it is often nearly empty during the MNL season. Myanmar’s next biggest stadium is the ageing former national venue Aung San Stadium blackened with mould in Yangon’s city centre. If refurbishment is not on the agenda this ground could quickly become a worn-out relic. Like Thuwana it is often virtually empty during league games despite its 40,000 capacity. The ground is said to be extremely difficult to play on, especially in the rainy season. Yangon United’s Bulgarian coach Ivan Kolev has compared it to playing “water-polo, not football.”