March 2 - 8 , 2009 Myanmar's first international weekly © Volume 23, No. 460

Football, boxing top sports for local fans

Watching a sporting event can open up a Pandora’s Box of emotions for dedicated fans, from ecstasy to despair and nostalgia, writes The Myanmar Times’ Aung Sithu Hein
Fans let off some steam at last year’s Grand Royal Challenge Cup in Yangon.

FOR second year medical student Ko Tun, it’s not always easy finding time for rest and relaxation. The 19-year-old North Dagon resident says he spends most of his hours either studying for lessons, working at his part-time job or tutoring matriculation students.

But there’s one event he always finds time for: European football matches.
“Some matches start as late as 2am but I still make sure I can watch them. I always make sure my study and tutoring are finished by 1am, then I’ll take a short nap and run to the video yone where the English Premier League and [Italian] Serie A matches are shown via satellite,” Ko Tun explains.

Football is not everyone’s preference but Ko Tun said he would never consider replacing his football-watching habits with another form of entertainment, such as the cinema, music concerts or karaoke.

“Even when I have to get up at midnight to watch a match, I never feel tired, in fact I feel very fresh at that time,” Ko Tun adds.

There are many other “Ko Tuns” out there in Myanmar, who each wait in anticipation for the next big football match. For many, it is as much about the socialisation as the spectacle.

A Myanmar traditional boxer prepares to enter the ring.

“Often we will try to predict the result of a football match with friends over a few beers while we are waiting for the match to start. Once it has started, we can support our favourite side by yelling, clapping and cheering, calling out the names of the players,” says U Ko Ko Lay, a 46-year-old import-export agent from Sanchaung township. He says he finds football matches cathartic. “[Football] helps me forget about any problems I have at work or at home.”

But not all sports fans are obsessed with football – Myanmar traditional boxing is also popular here, especially among male viewers.

U Win Lwin Aung, a 65-year-old sports writer and boxing fan, says the skill of the competitors makes traditional boxing a must-see spectacle.

“Some of the moves, they send shivers down your spine,” he says.

But the emotions generated by sporting matches are not always positive, says 24-year-old sports writer Ko Myo Min Kyaw.

“Whenever my favourite football team loses match, I’m just so down. I can’t sleep, I just keep thinking about the bad result,” he says. Luckily, as a Manchester United fan, he sleeps soundly most nights.

Some are even brought to tears by a poor performance, like boxing fan Ko Soe Thuya.

“In the challenge fight between Tway Ma Shaung and Yan Gyi Aung [on January 31], Tway Ma Shaung dominated throughout the fight and Yan Gyi Aung couldn’t muster up the effort to counterattack, allowing his rival to win. After the fight, I cried because of his failure,” Ko Soe Thuya said.

The conditions for spectators at local sporting events have also improved, U Win Lwin Aung noted, comparing the boxing bouts of yesteryear with today’s title fights, which are often held in the comfort of the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium.
“When I was about 30, I had to watch the boxing matches held at the pagoda festival. There were just a few seats, mostly we had to stand,” he says. “At that time, the traditional boxing matches were always held in the pagoda festivals. But, would you believe, we were always happy to watch like this.”

U Myint Lwin Thein, a 67-year-old sports writer, remembers with fondness going to football matches as a young man.

“If it was an international match, we would have to come to [Yangon’s] Aung San Stadium at about noon to buy a ticket, even though the game wouldn’t start till about 4pm. So my friends and I would take our lunch boxes and then eat while watching the matches. I was so happy then and still remember these experiences well,” U Myint Lwin Thein said.

He said even Myanmar’s domestic football competition, the States and Divisions Championship, was popular in those days.

“The fans used to come in buses to watch the matches at Aung San Stadium. Especially when Bago township was playing, there were so many people. I would say about 100 busloads of people would come to Yangon for the match,” he said. “Now fans are only interested in the Premier League and Serie A, which are broadcast on satellite television. They don’t want to watch or aren’t interested in the Myanmar League.”

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