State Counsellor discusses resumption of football events under COVID-19 guidelines

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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held a videoconference on the possible resumption of football events under control measures against the COVID-19. Participants at the virtual meeting were Permanent Secretary Dr Thet Khaing Win from the Ministry of Health and Sports, President U Zaw Zaw from Myanmar Football Federation and former Myanmar national selection goalkeeper Thiha Sithu.
First of all, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National-Level Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), said the discussion would be on the restarting of football matches during the COVID period; Myanmar is interested in football matches; that was why football fans would be interested to know when football matches would be restarting, the situation of football matches and how the footballers were faring.

Lifestyle and food were important for good health; it was important to eat healthy food and to take regular exercise in adequate amounts; if a person had good food and regular exercise, it could be said that this person had good health; that was why health and sports had been put together.
She said during the discussions, she wanted the participants to explain the negative impact of COVID-19 on sports and the efforts to mitigate the negative effects as much as possible; she had read the news that a vaccine for the treatment of COVID-19 has been discovered in Russia; we do not know yet the veracity of this news report; if the news were true efforts would be made to get this vaccine for the Myanmar people immediately; during this interim period she wanted the people to be patient and keep on following the rules and regulations; if these rules and regulations were being followed, we would be able to overcome the health problem. Next, Permanent Secretary Dr Thet Khaing Win discussed the importance of physical exercise in healthcare and medical treatments, as well as in the relief of diseases; due to serious measures against the pandemic under the instruction of central committee and the management of MoHS since early January, Myanmar was a 195th country that found the first positive case in the world; rules of control measures have some impacts on the socio-economic sector of the country, but restrictions were systematically relaxed phase by phase to avoid the second wave of a pandemic like in other countries; regular and unexpected checks were carried out at the businesses which were allowed for reopening.

Health authorities inspected the Yangon United Football Club in Hline Township, Thuwunna football stadium and Yangon Football Academy, and discussed with officials for the Standard operating procedures or guidelines to be able to resume football events; the Myanmar National League has been permitted to restart for the first stage.

On the basis of international guidelines for football events, Myanmar has adopted its appropriate SOP; the games will be held only in Yangon, instead of home and away matches where spectators are not allowed in the stadium to watch; all the participating players, referees and relevant persons will have to live in the camp for the whole football season; a total of 300 persons have been tested negative; it has been instructed not to closely celebrate for the goals and to adhere to guidelines in the matches and training sessions. He continued to say that more sports competition will be allowed on the basis of results from control measures in MNL.

Former Myanmar national selection player goalkeeper Thiha Sithu briefed the impacts of COVID-19 on the income of footballers; suspension of training for some months due to this disease; resumption of the events; agreements for lesser salaries to relieve financial losses of football clubs; MNL players cannot do other jobs in line with international norms of contracts with the clubs during the events were suspended; there are a total of 5,000 persons, including players, referees, coaches and managers, in the Myanmar professional football industry, as well as about 50,000 amateur persons.
He finally pledged to follow healthcare guidelines to prevent the pandemic.

President U Zaw Zaw from Myanmar Football Federation said that Myanmar National League becomes a professional league in 2009 and contracts with local and foreign players were made in line with the rules of the International Federation of Association Football and the Asian Football Confederation; the success of MNL club is also the dignity of Myanmar; there are 12 clubs in League One and 8 clubs in League Two in MNL; national selection team was formed with the players from the leagues and it has been approved by the AFF to take part in the Asian Champion League and the AFC competitions. The competitions were held in accordance with the season’s fixture list. The events were suspended on 20 March and planned to restart on 14 July after the MoHS officials inspected preparations. The MFF used its dormitories, academies and training facilities as the COVID-19 quarantine centres and a total of 3,000 persons have been accommodated there.

U Zaw Zaw added that the MNL events are scheduled for 22 August to restart; after finishing all the games in October, the selection for the national team will be carried out. He said that two football clubs from the League One were dissolved due to financial difficulties, leaving only 10 clubs in this league; while football club owners have spent a lot of their money for development of Myanmar football, while the MFF has struggled for surviving for 15 years without using the state budgets; the MoHS is also requested to provide more supports. As local events are also related to Asian level and world level competitions, the executive meeting of AFF was also held online. The MFF president added the women football events are expected to resume at the end of this year, as well as futsal and aged-classes events; the detailed plans up to December will be reported to the MoHS for its approval.

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi holds a videoconference on possible resumption of football events and government’s assistance to sports sector on 12 August. PHOTO: MNA

He also requested to air the events on MRTV and to reopen dormitories at the football academies; explained the sponsor organizations have reduced by around 50 to 60 per cent of their contracts due to economic decline at home and abroad, resulting from the cuts in the number of events and cost.
Amidst the pandemic situations, Myanmar is in the best status, compared with other ASEAN member-countries due to the systematic management of the government and people’s adherence to the control measures. U Zaw Zaw also advised the government to organize school football competitions to promote the soccer level of the country. The MoHS has planned to organize school football competitions; the WHO is discussing the announcement of Russia on the discovery of COVID-19 vaccine; Myanmar has negotiated with relevant and international organizations to get the vaccines; the ministry is relaxing restriction gradually. With respect to the discussions the State Counsellor said that she wanted the footballers to restart their football matches as soon as possible; in the same way, she wanted the country to be up and running in a regular fashion; we need to verify quickly the news about the discovery of preventive vaccine; the Ministry of Health and Sports has been working diligently regarding the prevention of COVID-19; if the situation became safe, she wanted the concerned authorities to allow football matches to be played in the most expeditious manner.

She wanted to know what kind of assistance could be given by the health authorities about the capability loss by footballers for being away from training sessions for about 4 to 5 months; during the quarantine period it was easy to give them special exercises in a systematic way and make efforts to improve their capabilities by providing good food and proper healthy regimes; just as the Myanmar Football Federation has been giving assistance, she wanted the Ministry of Health and Sports to provide assistance from the government side; success in the field of sports was also a success for the country and a matter of pride and dignity for the country; at one time Burma selected football team was the top in Asia; she still remembered this; we need to work hard to reach this level again.

Basically, it was important for the people’s health to be good; the fact that Myanmar footballers could play the first part well and during the second part their performance declined was due to the fact that these players had not received adequate nutrition during their youth; it was difficult to repair their health as they became older; the stamina of players who had received adequate nutrition from the time of their birth and players who had not received adequate nutrition during the same period was not the same; we have to make a lot of effort to reach up to international standard; just as efforts are made in the health sector, efforts need to be made in the sports sector also; cooperation was the key and also important; if efforts were made as a team real success could be achieved.

In some sports, some people believed that it could be accomplished by a single person; for example, a swimming champion might think that success was achieved single-handedly because the swimming events were individual events; it could not be forgotten that during the process of building up stamina and training, other people had been involved; there were his family and coaches during various stages of his career; no one could know everything single-handedly; we have to take into account the environment, the team and supporters; this is a very important fact; she liked football very much because the world of football brings out this fact in a clear and vivid manner; in playing football, apart from playing the game as a hobby, the spirit of cooperation was very important.

She wanted the footballers to be role models for the youths; she was not saying that they had to be role models in every field; footballers could become role models in having teamwork; it was not the excellence of one single person, for this person had to rely on his comrades to develop his capabilities and skills; in the same way this person had to help his comrades to develop their capabilities and skills; to be able to show this fact was very good for the country; this kind of spirit and training was very good for a new country, a country which had embarked on the road to development and a developing country; the fact that footballers are taking reduced salaries is for the benefit of supporters and donors who were supporting the team; this kind of spirit is very good; to be able to show how to build up a certain kind of strength through cooperation is very good indeed; this is the spirit of a footballer.

The spirit of a good footballer is the spirit of a good team; the spirit of a good team should be the spirit of a country; if all the citizens of a country participated and cooperated with the spirit of a good team, the development of the country could be assured; the efforts that had been made to restart the Myanmar National League matches were not only in accordance with the rules and regulations issued by the Ministry of Health and Sports but also in accordance with the needs of the country; this was why she was happy to learn that it was possible for the Myanmar National League matches to be resumed.
In her concluding remark, the State Counsellor said the government encourages football not only as a game but also as a tool for motivation; football competitions need to be organized at schools; each town must have at least a football ground; the economic situation of business firms plays a crucial role for supporting this industry; development of sports is related to the prosperity of a country; plans for football events during the pandemic are good; the central committee on COVID-19 holds the meeting every 15 days for relaxing restrictions.
She added that the government will consider about the football academies and the dormitories of private schools; both of these issues are being related; high schools have been reopened for one month and restrictions will be eased in accordance with the outcome; the immediate recovery is expected for the whole country through safe plans; public pressures for relaxing control measures have caused the outbreak of the second wave; imposition of rules again have more impacts on the country and its people; football events should be aired on the television channels and it will surely motivate the people.
The State Counsellor continued to say that the government will work for the people as much as possible although the country is not a developed and prosperous nation; doubt on Myanmar’s capacity for controlling COVID-19 have been removed; the sportsman spirit is needed to maintain the prevailing success in this measure; this attitude must be cultivated in facing win or loss; the defeat must be turned into the victory; as the spirit of the athlete is valued, this profession will also be supported.

She said that football can attract the largest number of global fans; Myanmar football status should be developed; with understanding the impacts of COVID, the government will render possible assistance; all the resources of the country are intended for its people as ‘People are the Key’; resources and wealth of country are just for the people, including football players; recovery of football industry will be facilitated, and the government will help for the earliest resumption of football events and airing the games on television channels.—MNA (Translated by Kyaw Myaing, Aung Khin)

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