BANGKOK – Myanmar established its own professional football league last year at the behest of its ruling general after his grandson suggested he buy England's Manchester United, according to a U.S. Embassy cable released Wednesday by WikiLeaks.
Several Myanmar businessmen speculated that the ruling junta wanted to establish the Myanmar National Football League to distract people from the country's political and economic problems, said the cable from the embassy in Yangon. Myanmar is one of the region's poorest countries and has been under military rule since 1962.
The June 2009 cable said local tycoons were pressured into funding the venture, but were also given incentives such as construction contracts, new gem mines and import permits.
It said a "well-connected source" reported that Senior Gen. Than Shwe's grandson wanted him to offer $1 billion for Manchester United, but that the junta chief "thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own." The U.S. government uses Myanmar's old name, Burma.
Myanmar officials could not immediately be reached Wednesday for comment.
The cable said another top junta official informed several local tycoons that Than Shwe had chosen them to be the owners of the new football teams, with responsibility for all costs, including the construction of expensive new stadiums.
A source, whose name was deleted from the cable, explained that "When the Senior General asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints," but added that the incentives offered to several businessmen would more than offset their costs.
The cable said several of the embassy's contacts had commented that the new league "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."
Myanmar held its first general elections in two decades on Nov. 7. Critics charged the polls were manipulated to ensure that a pro-military party won.