Friday 08 May 2020, 07:29

Myanmar’s Football United finding common ground through world game

  • Football youth and community development program set-up in Myanmar

  • Offshoot of successful Australia-based Football United

  • Program helping to unite society after decades of conflict

To say football can change lives may seem something of an overused cliché but rarely has it been more apt than in Myanmar.

Football United is engaging an astonishing number of young people in the highly ethnically diverse southeast Asian nation. Not only is it teaching football and sports skills, but also – perhaps, more importantly – life and social interaction skills.

The idea stems from the highly successful Football United program in Australia, which helps new arrivals Down Under integrate into society via the world game. Inspirational Sydney-based founder Dr Anne Bunde-Birouste teamed with Dr Tun Aung Shwe to help launch a variation of the program in Myanmar tailored to suit local requirements.

Seven years since it was launched the raw numbers speak for themselves. For 2020 the program is looking at 350 locations, 3,500 volunteers and an extraordinary 35,000 participants. The program has been built with help from the likes of Red Cross, Department of Education, local communities, high schools and universities.

The Myanmar program takes a holistic approach that encompasses promotion of a healthy lifestyle, nutrition, adolescent health, mental health, disaster risk reduction, grassroots peace building and development of resilient communities.

For decades the nation has been involved in civil wars or ethnic tensions. The resulting issues from this conflict have created many issues, including a lack of life opportunities and ethnic divisions.

With this in mind Football United offers a built-in career path from volunteer to paid staff and from coach to coach educator.

“One university student had a father who was a soldier involved in the civil war, so he had a very traumatic background,” Dr Tun told "He joined Football United and within a year he was working for the program and was soon doing an advanced course.

“He was then in a position to meet and greet new participants and for him this was the first time to meet students from other ethnic groups. He had the opportunity to work together, eat together and live together. And, because of his background, he said ‘before I would have hated them, but now having met them, I see things differently’.

"Through football his life has had a lot of changes. It is just one of the success stories we have seen."

Football United representative from Myanmar at France 2019

Myanmar had a team attend a festival held in conjunction with the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. Such an opportunity was unthinkable for many of the participants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“When we started in Myanmar in 2013, we were very small,” said Dr Tun, a former GP who previously worked extensively in remote regions of the country.

“I wanted to start in my university with two or three other cities and seven or eight locations, and with no staff. Now we have expanded to seven out of 14 states in Myanmar.

“Our future ambitions are to further strengthen the evolution capacity. Long-term Football United is looking to establish itself as a local NGO. We would like to transfer ownership of the program to Football United coaches who have come all the way through the system.”