General 'considered buying United'
Burma's ruling general considered buying Manchester United for a billion dollars after his football-loving grandson asked for it, according to new WikiLeaks memos.
But he decided instead to establish the country's own professional football league.
Several Burmese businessmen felt that the ruling junta wanted to establish the Burma National Football League to distract people from the country's political and economic problems, according to a cable from the US embassy in Rangoon. Burma is one of the region's poorest countries and has been under military rule since 1962.
The June 2009 memo said local tycoons were pressured into funding the venture, but were also given incentives such as construction contracts, new gem mines and import permits.
It said a "well-connected source" reported that General Than Shwe's grandson wanted him to offer a billion dollars for Manchester United, but that the junta chief "thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own".
The cable said another top junta official told several local tycoons that Than Shwe had chosen them to be the owners of the new football teams, with responsibility for all costs, including the construction of expensive new stadiums.
A source, whose name was deleted from the cable, explained that "when the Senior General asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints," but added that the incentives offered to several businessmen would more than offset their costs.
The cable said several of the embassy's contacts had commented that the new league "may be a way for the regime to distract the people from ongoing political and economic problems, or to divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections".
Burma held its first general elections in two decades on November 7. Critics said the polls were manipulated to ensure that a pro-military party won.