Blackouts unnerve Burma’s World Cup fans

Frequent electricity cuts across Burma are playing havoc with the nerves of football fans who will tonight hope to tune into the opening game of the World Cup.

State-run television stations in Burma are broadcasting the games live from South Africa. Although the 2007 qualifying games for the competition went miserably for Burma – they lost 0-7 and 0-4 to China – the nation is still football crazy; even the morose junta leader Than Shwe is said to be an avid Manchester United fan.

But the country’s seemingly terminal electricity problems threaten to spoil the event. A man in Burma’s second city of Mandalay said that football fans “have no idea what [authorities] will do about this”.

“Now people are just relying on electricity generators and battery invertors,” he said. “Electricity generators are not convenient for night time – the matches will be shown around one o’clock in the morning – because they are loud.”

The average power quota for Rangoon stands at six hours per day. Although Burma has been aggressively expanding its energy sector, much of the produce is sold off to neighbouring Thailand and China.

A resident of Rangoon’s South Dagon township said that power was on at sporadic times: “It’s on for about 10 minutes and then off about 30 minutes.” An Insein township resident said that until recently the area had been receiving 24-hour electricity but that had whittled down to random bursts of power.

Another Rangoon local said that those with money are planning to catch the games at massage parlours and karaoke bars, while most of the population will hits the teashops and bars.

“You can watch the game while having massage or rent a room at a guest house. But that’s only a minority [who can afford this],” he said. “Those who cannot watch it at home [because of powercuts] will have to rely on the many teashops and bars in the city area.”

Another worried fan said that “everybody will watch the game via satellite cables and such”.

“I like Italy and Latin America teams,” he said. “Some teams did so well in the qualifier matches but then did so poor [in the actual games]. I predict either England, Brazil or Spain [to win the cup]. Brazil, as you know, is master of football.”

The fears of Burma’s football-crazy population are however being played out in North Korea, following a decision by Seoul to cancel the free television feeds to its estranged northern neighbour. South Korea is using the block on coverage as retaliation against the North’s alleged torpedoing of its Cheonan navy vessel.

Meanwhile in Burma, people are reportedly becoming more serious about gambling on the games, said on Mandalay football fan.

“[The gambling tickets] are now available. The rule set for now is that a player will lose all the betting even if one guess is wrong,” he said. “If all the guessing is right, then the player gets multiple wins.”

Reports of authorities taking bribes from croupiers during the football season abound, and the problem is likely to worsen during the World Cup. Gambling is illegal for Burmese, although a number of casinos operate in the border regions and cater largely for foreign customers.

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