Football key in Myanmar’s transition

Football stands for positive change – this was one of the main messages delivered today, 26 October, in Yangon at the closing address of the ‘11 for Health programme,’ FIFA’s flagship health initiative held for the first time in Asia. The five-day course was attended by football coaches and teachers from all over Myanmar, who will be in charge of implementing football for health schemes in the country.

Myanmar is a country in transition, in which football can play a key role to address some pressing challenges, including health awareness and prevention. We’ll come back early next year to assess our pilot project and focus on the nationwide implementation of 11 for Health in Myanmar. This is a sustainable process that aims at triggering change. Myanmar was the right country to start our campaign in Asia. We now look forward to implementing 11 for Health in some other Asian countries as well,” said FIFA Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jiri Dvorak.

“This is a unique opportunity for FIFA to demonstrate the power of football being used for improvement of education and health. In the case of Myanmar we have been able to address this challenge through a powerful partnership between the government, represented by the ministries of education, health and sport, the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) and FIFA.”

If I compare Myanmar’s football now to the situation six years ago during my spell as national team coach, I can say that the country has made huge progress in terms of infrastructure and technical development.
Former Myanmar national team coach Ivan Kolev

In spite of a low placement in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking (184) and an early exit in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers – overshadowed by incidents caused by the inappropriate behaviour of local fans during the decisive match against Oman – Myanmar seems to be harvesting the benefits of recent football development measures.

“If I compare Myanmar’s football now to the situation six years ago during my spell as national team coach, I can say that the country has made huge progress in terms of infrastructure and technical development. They have understood that the only way to move forward is through a dedicated grassroots programme,” admitted Yangon United FC coach Ivan Kolev after Wednesday’s 1-0 MFF Cup victory over Zeyar Shwe Myay.

Kolev’s vision was shared by Yangon United FC and Myanmar’s national team captain Khin Maung Lwin. “I know, my generation will not make it to the FIFA World Cup, but if things keep on improving at such a fast pace, I’m confident the next generation of players will have a good chance to qualify.”

Since 2001 FIFA has invested more than USD 2 million in Myanmar’s football development through the implementation of four Goal projects, including the setting-up of the MFF headquarters in Yangon (2001), the construction of a football academy in Mandalay (2004), the organisation of a special training programme for young talent (2010) and the installation of seats at the Thuwunna YTC stadium in Yangon (2010). The construction of a fifth project, a football academy next to the MFF headquarters, was recently approved.

An additional USD 1 million has been provided over the past four years to the MFF through FIFA’s Financial Assistance Programme (FAP). Additionally, Myanmar has been an active participant in FIFA’s PERFORMANCE programme with 27 specific projects in a variety of football management areas implemented since 2008. An additional 13 FIFA courses have been organised in Myanmar in the past seven years.

“The setting-up of our 14-club national league in 2009 with the support of FIFA’s Performance programme was a milestone for Myanmar’s football as it marked the transition from amateurism to professionalism,” stated Zaw Zaw, MFF President. The MFF president, a well-known businessman in his country, has been one of the key investors in grassroots football.

Through the FIFA-funded academy in Mandalay and some private investments we have been able to establish a concrete programme for young talents from rural areas.
MFF President Zaw Zaw

“Our country has been facing economic difficulties, which have had a negative impact on our sport. However, football gives us now a good possibility to showcase Myanmar. The fact that we have hosted the FIFA 11 for Health programme is a good example of the great importance of creating synergies between FIFA, the government and the MFF,” added Zaw.

According to recent MFF estimations, three million people play football on a regular basis in Myanmar, three times more than at the beginning of the century, with national team games played at the 30,000-seater Thuwunna YTC stadium attracting sold-out crowds.

“Twelve years ago we didn’t even have our MFF headquarters and grassroots football was still at a rudimentary stage. Through the FIFA-funded academy in Mandalay and some private investments we have been able to establish a concrete programme for young talents from rural areas. We are talking about a long-term process and this week’s medical course represented a new step in the right direction,” stated Zaw.

The MFF president announced that his organisation has put forward a concrete mid-term target. “In eight years I would like to see our U-17 national team qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup.” However, with the women’s national team among the world’s top 50 (47) and the U-19 still on track for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2014, Myanmar’s women could outdo Zaw’s expectations. “If our women make it first, I would be very happy. It’s all about demonstrating that we are progressing.”