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A Burmese sports official said on Saturday that the head of world football’s governing body will visit the country for the first time next month.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter will attend the opening of a soccer academy during his two-day visit in March, Zaw Zaw, chairman of the Myanmar Football Federation, told AFP.
“It will be his first visit to Myanmar [Burma]. I am very pleased and proud that a man with such a leading role in world football is coming to our country,” he said.
Blatter will be present at an opening ceremony of a sports facility in Mandalay, central Burma, during his stay on 15 and 16 March, Zaw Zaw said.
Football is Burma’s most popular sport and now has its own league with about 100 players on monthly salaries ranging from 300,000 kyat ($US300) to one million kyat (US$1,000).
Senior General Than Shwe ordered regime cronies and businessmen to be the owners of professional football teams in the league in January 2009, with incentives offered such as gem and jade mines, according to a leaked US cable from that year.
A follow-up cable noted that the Burmese strongman’s grandson is himself a footballer for the Delta United team owned by Zaw Zaw, whose companies are subject to US sanctions.
Zaw Zaw was described as “one of several mid-level cronies actively attempting to curry favour with the regime and to use his government ties to expand his commercial enterprises”.
According to one embassy source kept anonymous by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, Zaw Zaw and Than Shwe’s grandson came up with the idea of a professional soccer league “but had to obtain the Senior General’s support first”.
Burma, military-ruled since 1962, held its first election in 20 years in November but this was widely dismissed by Western countries as a sham to cloak ongoing military rule.