The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Roller Skaters to Display Skills at ASEAN Championships

YANGON — Five skaters from the Myanmar Skate Association (MSA) will participate in the 5th ASEAN Inline Skating Championship in Vung Tau City, Vietnam later this month.

They will leave for Vietnam on June 20.

“This is the second time we have been involved in this championship. We also participated in the 3rd ASEAN Inline Skating Championship in Malaysia,” said MSA founder Ko Lwin Latt.

This year, the Myanmar skaters will compete in the Artistic Roller Skating category. In this event, the participants dance on skates, competing for points from the judges.

Skaters compete in a roller skating competition.(Photos supplied)

“Competitors can wear anything, including traditional dress. We will have a Thu Nge Taw [Traditional Boys’ Dance] theme. The kids are still practicing with a teacher at Yangon University of Art and Culture,” Ko Lwin Latt said.

Including Ko Lwin Latt, the Myanmar team delegation will comprise six people. The competition runs for four days from June 21-24.

“We will do the best we can. Last time, we were the ASEAN fourth runner up and had a chance to go to the World Championship.”

Despite qualifying, the squad was unable to go to the World Championships due to a lack of sponsors and other financial support.

“The MSA is not an official government association. All of the trips we have made to participate in championships and competitions were funded with our own money. Occasionally, a few third-party companies have provided some sponsorship,” Ko Lwin Latt said.

A skater leaps over a small obstacle during a competitive roller skating event.(Photos supplied)

“We are still trying to get approval from the government. We have submitted all the necessary forms to the Ministry of Sport aiming to win recognition for roller skating as a sport and to win accreditation as the Myanmar Roller Sports Federation.”

The group’s application has been rejected four times, each time for a different reason, Ko Lwin Latt said.

“The first two times we were missing certain documents, but the last two times I prepared everything on the list but they still rejected us. I have no idea why. They said in their rejection letter that [roller] skating is not practiced in all countries and that [recognition] would require skating to be practiced in more places,” he said.

They received the most recent rejection letter from the Ministry of Sport in April.

Myanmar Skate Association members and a group of kids taking part in a skating event.(Photos supplied)

The MSA was founded in May 2013 by Ko Lwin Latt and a few other skaters from various regions. Their main objectives are to build standardized skating rinks, to develop the sport in the country, to hold a national skating competition once a year, to send talented local skaters to international competitions and to improve street kids’ lives through skating.

MSA teams have participated in 14 international skate competitions and even won two gold medals at the ASEAN Inline Roller Cross Series 2017 in Malaysia.

The lack of official recognition for the MSA — despite its having qualified for the ASEAN and World Cup Skating competitions — has cost Myanmar skaters the opportunity to enter Olympic skating competitions.

“Roller skates need to be adjusted depending on the rink. So we need to carry tools and screws with us. We always have to explain to airport staff that we are skaters and are there for the competition. If we were an official federation, we wouldn’t need to bother with that, as international airports make allowances for accredited athletes. This would give us more time to train. We always face problems at the airport,” Ko Lwin Latt said.

A friend of MSA founder Ko Lwin Latt demonstrates roller skating moves at the Nescafe Urban Movement Skate Competition.(Photos supplied)

According to Ko Lwin Latt, Myanmar has about 400 roller skaters from different cities such as Yangon; Bago; Baik and Dawei from Tanintharyi Region; Pathein and Chaung Thar from Ayeyarwaddy Region; Pyin Oo Lwin and Meiktila from Mandalay Region; Bagan, Nyaung Oo, Magway, Loikaw from Kayah State; and Taunggyi Division. Myanmar has a total of 35 skating rinks, most of them being D.I.Y skate parks.

“Most of the skaters are poor; they are street kids including former drug addicts, but they have changed their lives through skating. The truth is, skaters find happiness in their teams and don’t want to go back to their old lives. That’s why I can’t give up trying to gain recognition from the government. If we were considered an official local sport, we could do even more activities and more street kids would become interested in it,” Ko Lwin Latt said.

While he has no intention of giving up, he worries that youth in Myanmar will give up on roller skating if they don’t get enough support.

“I will try again to get approval from the government; if they reject us again, I’m thinking of turning the MSA into a non-government organization. That’s our plan B,” he said.

For now, though, he is focused on coaching the top skaters to win medals in Vietnam and, on weekends, going to local skate parks to train more street kids.