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Can football heal animosities in Burma?


(Letter) – “Our lingua franca” – It was the word that came into my mind when I saw the news photo of Aung San Suu Kyi's attending a football match at the National Youth Stadium in Rangoon. I learned the word “lingua franca” many years ago in a Newsweek article: “Our Lingua Franca: How football can heal animosities. (2002)” which was one of the most beautiful articles I have ever read in my life. The phrase “lingua franca” generally means a language that serves as a common means of communication between people not sharing a mother tongue. In short, it is a bridge language or common language.

Aung San Suu Kyi, center, watches a football match in Rangoon this week with Burmese businessmen and close friends of the former military government. Photo: Mizzima 
I am sure no one would deny me saying our lingua franca is football, which has become a universal common passion that can bring together people, young and old, regardless of their cultural background. It doesn't matter where you were born or what language you speak. Football gives us a common cause, a common pursuit and, of course, a common language.  
 
I, myself, experienced so many situations in which football is a common language. Last year, I spent a long train journey across Australia by talking about world football with a complete stranger, a UK born Englishman who was raised in Spain.  We both understood that passion for football has no borders, it's the same everywhere. Quite recently, I experienced the same with a German teenager who is travelling around the world during his school holiday. We still keep in touch with each other online as football brought us closer.
 
To embrace diversity and respect ideological, national, cultural, racial and religious differences, football plays a vital role as a passion for football can transcend all those barriers. For instance, both North and South Korean football fans came to South Africa and enjoyed wonderful moments together during the last World Cup despite different political backgrounds. In fact, in ancient times the Romans and the Greeks canceled their battles in order to participate in sporting competitions so it is obvious that sport events like football games can help to ease tensions between two aggressive parties.  Instead of making war, it is also the best and only safest way to release patriotic emotions between countries that have racial or political hatred.
 
However, it is clear that initiating a political dialogue between two different sides is really challenging, especially in Burma where political crisis is not just an ideological disagreement between democratic forces and a military regime or totalitarianism but also severe in ethnic conflicts. The problem is rooted in the early years of independence because a genuine Federal Union was never fully implemented and it makes the current situation even worse.
 
I agree with you if you say there are other important issues rather than football that must share as a mutual interest to build confidence and establish a common ground for dialogue. However, I sincerely believe that the willingness of some people in the military-backed government and pro-military cronies to share experiences, ideas, and commonalities of interests with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi can create bonds between different sides and eventually it will sort out the country's problems.
 
I understand that there is still a long way to go to establish a genuine democratic system of government that can guarantee human rights, political equality, and ethnic self-determination, but I hope it's the beginning of the end of the desert years of our beloved country and signals a better future ahead. “Let's just hope for the best…all the while…preparing for the worst.”  
 
Thank you so much for your time and work as a Burmese independent exile media.
 
Nyein Chan Aye
Brisbane, Australia
Last Updated ( Friday, 16 September 2011 12:04 )  
The Kachin’s last stand
Since October this year, Burma has been in a state of civil war, with fighting between Burmese military and armed ethnic rebels. The ruling junta started a crackdown on these armed groups.

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