YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Fans in Myanmar of soccer teams from England’s Premier League have banded together to join the popular movement protesting the country’s recent military takeover.
“Even though we’re rivals, we now show the world that we are holding hands with each other for our country,” soccer fan Aung Thu Htun said Saturday.
Several senior players from Myanmar’s national team similarly cast their lots with the protesters, announcing that they will not represent the country under the military government, which has ruled the country since the Feb. 1 coup. Tens of thousands of people, and possibly more, began a second week of protests around the country on Saturday, despite a ban on gatherings of five or more people and the use of rubber bullets and water cannons to break up several previous demonstrations.
“We want true democracy. We are all going forward and won’t do these things that go backward. That’s why we are not going to play for the national team,” said goalkeeper Kyaw Zin Htet. Several players held a brief exhibition and met with the politically aware local soccer fans Saturday to highlight their position.
On Friday, some 700 supporters of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City of the Premier League, as well as fans of the Spanish League club Barcelona, marched together in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
Marching groups have included professionals such as lawyers and medical workers, representatives of the country’s myriad ethnic groups, Buddhist monks, factory workers and students, as well as cyclists on their bikes, shirtless bodybuilders and self-described plus-size women.
The soccer fans carried anti-coup posters as they marched from downtown Yangon to the British Embassy to deliver the message that they want their favorite teams to give attention to Myanmar’s pressing political crisis, said 30-year-old Zarni Maung.
“We’ve given all our souls and energy to support the favorite clubs in our lives,” said the die-hard Liverpool supporter. “I wish they would hear us and know what’s happening in my country. ”
“Our fans were very excited waiting for the upcoming fixtures. But now we can’t even focus on the matches, and work on the protests,” he said. “Being under the military junta is such a pain.”
A fan wearing a Manchester United shirt held a poster declaring “I don’t want dictatorship, I only want trophies.”
Another held one saying “We thought VAR is a JOKE but this Military Coup is the REAL JOKE.” VAR stands for video assistant referee, in which officials monitoring a game by video can get a clearer view of controversial plays than might be seen by a referee actually on the field.
“International attention is needed. Football’s influence is very wide globally. We fans are now together fighting against the military,” said 24-year-old Hein Thu, a Manchester United supporter.
He recalled that the ruling junta blacked out internet access temporarily last week.
“I was not even able to watch the game that my team played,” he said. “There was no TV channel or internet to watch and check the scores. I am worried we will lose our rights to watch the soccer matches.”