NAYPYIDAW — Just over a month before the Southeast Asian Games kick off, Burma’s football team has learned that it will compete against Indonesia, East Timor, Thailand and Cambodia for a place in the knock-out stages of a tournament expected to be a highlight of the 27th biannual Games.
Seeded third, a ranking based on the team’s performance at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, home favorites Burma will hope to finish among the top two in their pool to secure a place in the tournament semifinals.
The draw took place at the Wunna Theikdi Stadium, a new 30,000-seater built in Naypyidaw to host the SEA Games’ track and field events. The football matches will be played, however, at the Zayar Thiri Stadium, a replica of the Wunna Theikdi located a half-hour drive across town in Naypyidaw’s main military area, while the women’s football competition, in which Burma was drawn against Vietnam, the Philippines and again Indonesia, will be played in Mandalay.
The first round match-ups for other team sports, including futsal, basketball and volleyball, were also drawn on Wednesday morning, with the event rocked to its foundations, however, by an interjection from the Brunei representative, who said that the oil and gas-rich Sultanate was withdrawing from the SEA Games futsal tournament.
Outside of Wunna Theikdi Stadium, workers hammered and drilled away in the morning heat, readying the stage and backdrop for the opening ceremony scheduled for Dec. 8. The pageant will be attended by Burma President Thein Sein, as well as regional heads of government including Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
Elsewhere in Naypyidaw, hotels are undergoing frantic last-minute renovations and, in some cases, round-the-clock construction of additional wings, to host the expected influx of visitors for the tournament.
Nonetheless, Burma’s Deputy Sports Minister Zaw Win told The Irrawaddy that arrangements for the SEA Games are on track. “We are happy that all preparations are coming on time and look forward to Myanmar holding the 27th SEA Games,” Zaw Win said.
The athletics competitions come ahead of Burma’s 2014 chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), during which hundreds of regional political and economic meetings will take place in the former military dictatorship.
The SEA Games will feature 33 sports, with the usual sporting and athletics competition staples such as track and field, basketball, swimming and boxing being joined by regional sports such as sepak takraw, a cross between football and volleyball, and pencak silat, a form of martial arts.
Football, however, is expected to be the main local spectator draw during the SEA Games. Myat Thura Soe, international relations secretary of the Myanmar National Olympic Committee, told The Irrawaddy that “we expect the crowds will be most interested in football, especially when the Myanmar team plays.”Show