Burmese general considered buying Manchester United

While his country was suffering from the aftermath of the devastating cyclone Nargis, Burma’s military leader, Than Shwe, was considering how to boost spirits, distract the Burmese people "from ongoing political and economic problems" and "divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections," according to U.S. embassy cables released by the Guardian today. ...

HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images

While his country was suffering from the aftermath of the devastating cyclone Nargis, Burma's military leader, Than Shwe, was considering how to boost spirits, distract the Burmese people "from ongoing political and economic problems" and "divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections," according to U.S. embassy cables released by the Guardian today.

Than Shwe, a Manchester United fan egged on by his soccer-loving grandson, considered making a $1 billion bid for the soccer team at some point in late 2008-early 2009 - just months after Nargis killed about 140,000 Burmese people. After concerns that such a purchase might "look bad" in light of international criticism of the junta's slow response to Nargis, the idea was scrapped in favor of the creation of a domestic soccer league. According to the cable:

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.

While his country was suffering from the aftermath of the devastating cyclone Nargis, Burma’s military leader, Than Shwe, was considering how to boost spirits, distract the Burmese people "from ongoing political and economic problems" and "divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections," according to U.S. embassy cables released by the Guardian today.

Than Shwe, a Manchester United fan egged on by his soccer-loving grandson, considered making a $1 billion bid for the soccer team at some point in late 2008-early 2009 – just months after Nargis killed about 140,000 Burmese people. After concerns that such a purchase might "look bad" in light of international criticism of the junta’s slow response to Nargis, the idea was scrapped in favor of the creation of a domestic soccer league. According to the cable:

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.

According to another cable, a "regime crony" named Zaw Zaw became owner of Delta United, one of the new professional teams in the Myanmar Football National League. In one apparent attempt to "curry favor with the regime," he hired Than Shwe’s grandson to play for the team.

Suzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.

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