Fair Play in Burma


Posted Sunday, June 4, 2006

More than a century ago, a diminutive Scottish teacher strode onto a school playing field in Rangoon and punted a sphere of Indian rubber into the sultry tropical air. The year was 1878. The man was J. George Scott, a preacher’s son from Fife, and he had just brought football to colonial Burma. Admittedly, there are other, more pivotal moments in Burmese history—not least the 1962 coup when the military seized power. But you would hardly know it in Burma, where the sport Scott introduced is not just a national obsession, but an indicator of a great country’s tragic decline under one of the world’s oldest surviving dictatorships.


A gifted linguist and scholar, Scott spent most of his working life as a colonial administrator. He was small, tough and fearless—he scaled hilltop fortresses to meet ferocious headhunters known as the Wild Wa, and braved man-eating boa constrictors to explore Burma’s then uncharted border with China. “Stepped on something soft and wobbly,” runs a typically pithy entry in his jungle diary. “Struck a match, found it was a dead [Chinese].”


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