When the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) established the AFC Dream Asia Foundation in 2017, it was driven by the ambition of harnessing the unparalleled power of football to uplift the most vulnerable communities across Asia, aptly under the theme of “Football Cares”.
Since then, the world has been faced with dark times and Asia has been no exception.
The challenges have been numerous – from floods and droughts to a deadly global pandemic. However, the gravity of such crises has been more than matched by the resolute dedication of our many heroes and heroines from all walks of life, who have risen to meet the challenges.
And, in Southeast Asia, the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) and its philanthropic President Zaw Zaw stood out as the perfect examples of courage and kindness in the face of sheer adversity, leveraging the power of the game for the greater good of humankind.
As part of AFC Media’s Social Responsibility – AFC Member Association Focus, we highlight the philanthropic endeavours of Zaw Zaw, who also serves as the AFC Senior Vice President, Chairperson of the AFC Social Responsibility Committee, and a Member of the AFC Dream Asia Foundation.
The MFF President has time and again smoothly transcended from his role as a top football official to assisting the larger community through a variety of purposeful humanitarian programmes.
Most recently, while the whole world grappled with the COVID-19 global pandemic, the MFF, under Zaw Zaw’s guidance, stepped up to support the people through a range of initiatives.
Zaw Zaw, who also chairs the Ayeyarwady Foundation, donated generously to help provide quarantine facilities, transportation services, food supplies, and health insurance to volunteers and caregivers, while also offering material help to local hospitals as they strived to meet their daily needs.
During the height of the pandemic, in an effort to combat an alarming increase of Covid-19 cases, he built up a 1000 bedded free Treatment/ quarantine Hospital with an HDU and ICU facility in Yangon and 375 bedded hospital in Mandalay, Myanmar which treated 12066 patients and also established a free test center which catered to 22444 patients.
“The pandemic times were dark ones and it helped us put things in perspective, prioritise our life goals. Some of us are more fortunate than others and so it is incumbent upon us to uplift our brothers and sisters and provide comfort in challenging times,” said Zaw Zaw.
During the course of the pandemic, Zaw Zaw worked closely with the Ministry of Sports and took charge to assist the Ministry of Health by turning the MFF’s training centres into quarantine camps, thereby enabling citizens to reunite safely with their families.
But Zaw Zaw’s humanitarian endeavours to combat the multifaceted challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop there.
The MFF President spearheaded a drive to provide daily basic food necessities along with additional medical supplies, masks and protective chambers during the pandemic.
In his capacity as the Group Chairman of one of Myanmar’s premier conglomerates, he oversaw the contribution of 7.7 million litres of fuel subsidies to emergency vehicles, taxis and NGOs. In total, Zaw Zaw contributed USD15m in COVID-19 aid, prevention and treatment in Myanmar.
“We cannot exist in a society and expect progress to take place if we are not willing to help each other. I am extremely proud of the manner in which the Myanmar community answered the call to come together and fight our way out of the crisis. The victory belongs to all of us,” he added.
Zaw Zaw took over the reins of the MFF in 2005 and has since led tireless efforts for the holistic development of Myanmar football.
In 2009, Zaw Zaw founded the first Myanmar Professional League which paved the way for the Myanmar players to raise their competitive standards in the region. He was awarded the ASEAN Goodwill Award in 2014. In 2015, wide-ranging reforms carried out by the MFF saw its U-20 men’s national team qualify for their first ever FIFA tournament, the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, while in 2016, Myanmar succeeded in finishing in the final four of the Asean Football Federation Championship, bringing cheer to the football-mad country.
The same year also saw Zaw Zaw providing a much-needed fillip to women’s football in the country with the establishment of the Women’s League.
In order to further enhance and promote football in Myanmar, Zaw Zaw collaborated with the AFC and FIFA to establish three football academies across the country – all aimed at nurturing the potential of the next generation of players.
In 2019, the MFF produced a Strategic Plan which outlined promising plans for the future that would offer football and coaching opportunities to people from all backgrounds and age-groups.
“I want to see football flourish everywhere in my country. We must focus on every aspect of the football ecosystem if we want the national teams to succeed,” opined Zaw Zaw.
“With our efforts to increase opportunities for youth and women footballers, I am confident that a new age in Myanmar’s football history is on the horizon,” he added.
These initiatives have led to the MFF being recognised as a Bronze member under the coveted AFC Grassroots Charter.
The effects of the MFF’s efforts in using football as a tool to build the future have been reflected in several of the Federation’s other recent achievements.
Supported by the FIFA Foundation, the MFF launched the FIFA Football for Schools project in 2020, with the aim of using football as a vehicle to teach children life skills such as tolerance, team spirit, and fair play. The event also saw the MFF President donating 10,000 footballs to mark the occasion.
Most recently, Zaw Zaw, in his capacity as Founder and Chairman of the country’s second largest bank, contributed to the ongoing development of football in Myanmar through the sponsorship and funding of matches and activities.
“Our children are our future and the onus to give the necessary resources and help them be their best versions is on us, and I truly believe that football can play a huge role in shaping the personalities of our youngsters,” remarked Zaw Zaw.
Zaw Zaw has donned many hats since assuming the MFF President’s role, but it is his determined efforts to drive social change through football he wants to be most remembered by.
“Our sport is a tool for social change, for bringing people together, and for creating a brighter future. It is a source of hope in even the darkest times,” said Zaw Zaw.
“In the end, we all wonder what our legacy will be. I just want to be remembered as someone who tried to help his community. For me, my vehicle is the beautiful game and I want to show the world that football really does care.”