Please give me some leeway when I say this. I hated sports. I viewed it as a waste of time. Why throw balls around when you could be dedicating yourself to more intellectual pursuits? I never ‘got’ the football fanatics that always come out of hiding at that time of year (yes, I’m referring to the start of the English Premier League) to rowdily and most boisterously cheer on their favorite teams on TV in many of Yangon’s ubiquitous street-corner teashops. Why are they so riled up, I wonder? Why are they so passionate?
Myanmar is hosting the 27th SEA Games, a quadrennial mini-Olympics attended by the 11 members of the ASEAN, for the first time since 1969. It’s a big deal because we’ve just emerged out of a military dictatorship to a quasi-civilian parliamentary *ahem* democracy, we’ve hosted the World Economic Forum on Asia, we’ve seen civilian action in power against corporate Sino-favoritism and cronyism (a notable victory being the postponement of the Myitsone Dam Project), and much more. Sure, we’ve had bumps on the road and it’s not a perfect democracy but things are slowly getting better (yes, consider me guilty of being a naive idealist). Then they went on to build these gargantuan stadiums, put on extravagant shows in anticipation of the Games, and put up large billboards all over the city saying, “Welcome to the 27th SEA Games”. And it’s got people pumped up and excited.
What do I think? Well, it’s a big waste of money and time. Why not just say that our nation cannot afford the expensive host status and simply rewire revenue towards education, the Peace Process and rural development? Moreover, Myanmar will be acting as Chairman of the ASEAN as of 2014. The administration costs, undoubtedly, will be huge and hosting the 1100 meetings related to the ASEAN will definitely put a strain on our nation’s coffers.
Thrust into a position of leadership as host of the Games and chairman, Myanmar will have to, as any good leader should, consider the interests of other member states apart from its own. The Games are for all; all of the 11 member states. But as it turns out, it is Myanmar — it is us — that needs the SEA Games the most. Emerging from a tumultuous past, although things now are far from perfect, it’s good to see that we’re doing well. It’s good to see our Chinlone team win gold medals (Maybe because it’s a sport we invented in the first place but who cares? It is just cause for celebration!).
At this point, I am quite indifferent to the SEA Games. Who cares? Life goes on amid the festivities. And life will go on after the last game has been played, after the last cheesy pep-rally song is sung, and after the last gold medal has been awarded. But I stumbled upon a post by the assistant coach of our Men’s National Basketball Team ( Here’s the link: http://wendyduke.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/i-have-a-story-to-tell-you/). It is a story of 15 men giving it all they’ve got for their country; a story about the underdog preparing to enter the stage with a bang. Somehow it managed to penetrate my armor of cynicism and ignorant indifference, and managed to ignite something in me; something I haven’t felt much of before. Pride. Pride for my country.
Please don’t be mistaken. I am proud of being Burmese. I appreciate our rich history and unique cultural heritage. It’s just that I haven’t felt proud of Myanmar as a nation (which is justifiable, given our dismal human rights records and our tendency to oppress)
But these 15 men from the National Basketball Team has changed all this for me. I’m proud now. I’m proud of the men and women giving it all they’ve got to bring pride to our country; pride that we desperately need. It’s them, these heroes and heroines, that my ode is dedicated to. It’s them, the unsung heroes, that can bring everyone together — regardless of whether we are ethnic Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Bama, Rakhine or Shan — under the same roof so that we can proudly say, in the words of another cheesy pep-rally song, “We are Myanmar!”