Protests against the military coup continue in Myanmar; aerial images of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who converged in towns and cities in recent days have helped show the scale of animosity towards the country’s military, which now faces the fallout of a nationwide strike. These events highlight the fragility of Myanmar’s political landscape. But they have also prompted a reckoning with the shortcomings, if not worse, of western engagement in Myanmar, a decade on from the start of a transition away from authoritarian rule that saw Myanmar held aloft as a success story in liberal-democracy promotion and “meaningful intervention” in Asia.The 1 February coup triggered a course reversal from western governments and institutions. Praise for November’s democratic elections, which handed victory to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, has since turned to condemnation of the generals and promises of action to coax – if not force – them from power. The US state department framed new sanctions as a means of “promoting accountability” and alluded to “additional policy levers we can pull” to return Myanmar to democratic government, while Boris Johnson stated that the UK would “ensure those responsible for this coup are held to account”. The UN and G7 blocs have meanwhile denounced an “unacceptable” situation.These are bold declarations, and they continue a history of assertive rhetoric from the UK and its allies in response to upheaval in Myanmar. But in their tenor, content and strategy, they are critically flawed. Statements from western governments and institutions that promise transformative action suggest that they not only have the ability to reverse the coup, but also that they have a nuanced understanding of Myanmar’s complex, often mysterious, internal power dynamics.The reality is rather different. The influence once enjoyed by western nations in Myanmar has greatly diminished in recent years. A key moment came in 2016-17, when western nations responded to the military’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingya with brash rhetoric, targeted sanctions and UN mechanisms that were ill-suited for atrocity prevention. This had a demonstrably damaging effect on the crisis, backing the military into a corner such that it saw its only options as losing credibility at home or retaliating. Already narrow diplomatic inroads were closed off, and the generals moved closer to China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries, which are at best agnostic about democratic processes.The strident tenor of condemnation in 2016-17 underestimated the military’s ability to manipulate the Myanmar public into interpreting western criticism as a threat to the country itself, thereby uniting the people against an external foe and spawning scepticism of western claims of atrocities. It did nothing to halt the violence, nor to deter the military from future campaigns against minority groups. Britain, the US and others are drawing now from the same failed playbook, coupling forceful rhetoric with action that is proven to have little effect on the generals. Additional sanctions, for instance, have been targeted at a military already subject to sanctions. Yet as the coup demonstrates, these measures do little to rein in their excesses. This raises a second critical issue: that western responses to political and human rights crises are largely automated, and lack the necessary nuance to meet the unique needs of each crisis situation.But there is another problem with the language now being used to threaten the generals and gesture towards support for the counter-movement: it is both imperious and deceptive. The illusion of imminent action has many pro-democracy protesters believing substantive intervention might be forthcoming. Banners at recent demonstrations have indeed implored the US, EU and others to step in, including through armed invasion. A coalition of civil society groups in Myanmar has called on the UN security council to send an intervention mission. Perhaps some are making such appeals tactically, to generate wider global attention. But for others there remains an unjustified faith in western power, one that misses a hard truth of liberal posturing: that rhetoric, properly amplified, is a neat cover for inaction.Western aid workers saw the costs of this in 2017, when they had to explain to Rohingya why the “international community” wasn’t coming to save them from the genocide. The disconnect between rhetoric and action was incomprehensible and devastating to Rohingya. One Myanmar development worker, Phyo Thet Tin, summarised the broader issue: “Some are hopeful at the potential for western action until they figure out the actual policies of these countries. Then no one is hopeful.”Western actors can support Myanmar’s people – just not in the way their rhetoric suggests. They cannot promise accountability or any form of “intervention”. But they can reshape existing, poorly calibrated efforts to be more dynamic, tailored and grassroots-focused. Civil society partnerships must become more flexible and empowering. Dialogue with all opposition parties must deepen, including the self-designated Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and the General Strike Committee of Nationalities. Local activists must be seen and heard as expert advisers, not as beneficiaries. Rhetoric and action must be reconciliation-focused, to avoid incentivising further military crackdowns. Diplomatic engagement with Japan, Asean and others should be pursued with a willingness to make the unpalatable political and economic sacrifices that may be required in order to get these countries to pressure the military for change.But the best chance for Myanmar’s future rests on the momentum of its own people, who have shown a capacity for effective organising. If western powers do indeed want to support Myanmar’s fight for democracy, they must do away with performative misrepresentations of their own influence, which misguide and undermine the movement for change. The abandonment felt by the Rohingya in 2017 must not be experienced by today’s protesters. Energy spent on lost causes, such as lobbying the UN, is energy wasted, and there is likely a long struggle ahead. The Myanmar people both deserve, and will be strengthened by, a reformed model of western solidarity founded on transparency and encouragement of the people’s own self-reliance.
It was hard to watch Ollie Pope’s dismissal in England’s second innings at Ahmedabad; crouched, nervous, boots marooned in the crease, glancing behind him for a pickpocket with outstretched fingers but finding only flying bails and dislodged stumps. Playing for the turn, bamboozled by the straight one, drooped head, slumped shoulders, eyes squeezed shut.There is no shame in being bowled twice in one match by Ravichandran Ashwin, wicket-snatcher supremo, quicker to 400 Test scalps than anyone apart from Muttiah Muralitharan. Especially on a pitch of such a niche quality. But England might ask whether there is anything to be gained from playing Pope in the final Test on the same ground, which starts on Thursday.In January 2014, towards the end of that Ashes tour of the longest night, Alastair Cook sat 24-year-old Joe Root down in the Sydney dressing room and told him that he had been dropped. It wasn’t a complete surprise. Wisden remarked, somewhat archly, that: “Root, supposedly the future of English batting, was omitted … with one score over 26.”Root had made his debut in Nagpur in 2012, digging out a patient 73 on a turgid pitch. A maiden Test century at Headingley and a first Ashes century followed the next summer.Things then went downhill as he was jiggled this way and that around a bamboozled batting order before he found himself looking into Cook’s sorrowful eyes. Root was furious. “I was an empty vessel.”But from the outside, it seemed a mercy gesture. The series was (long) gone, Mitchell Johnson was running rampant and there was little to be gained from a further battering to their new young hope.Root returned to the side in the summer and, sitting in the Lord’s dressing room, he replayed in his mind Cook telling him he wasn’t playing at Sydney. “I was using it as an inner motivation,” he said. “I did not want that happening again.” He made an unbeaten 200 against Sri Lanka and the rest is history.Pope, similarly, is seen as the future of English batting, the proud owner of the gilded three: talent, technique and mentality. He was whisked into the Surrey system as an under-nine and given his England cap by Alec Stewart, the same man who handed over his Surrey Under-10 player of the year award. Stewart, who was spending Friday at the Oval nets with his dog thrower, sent a message that Pope is “a special talent”. Still only 23, he has been around the England set-up since 2018, picked on fluent county form and the whim of selector Ed Smith. But he suffered two shoulder injuries in between making a century against South Africa – and lost the best part of two summers to injury – and Covid, and has yet to fully cement his place. He also admitted to finding last summer’s England bubble difficult to cope with.Mark Ramprakash has guided Pope in his former role as England batting coach, and has experience of how hard it is to bat in India. “I think within that environment, each individual reacts differently,” he says. “He has shown himself to have an excellent temperament but when you’re in the spotlight like that, you’ve had a couple of difficult pitches, you’re not getting the runs you want, the management have to try to read how he is reacting, his body language, his routines, how he is interacting. I guess they’ve got to weigh up the pros and cons: if they leave him out now they could damage his confidence even more.The Spin: sign up and get our weekly cricket email.“He shouldn’t get too down because they have played on some really challenging surfaces. I would stress that while they are pursuing every avenue to keep adapting and learning, this needs to be put in context. There is no tougher proposition for an English batsman than facing a top-class spinner in Asian conditions with men round the bat on challenging surfaces.“I know Ollie is very close to Joe Root and sees him as a great role model, and England are lucky that they have Root around to talk about the game and practise with.”Lucky too that in Root they have a man who can empathise with exactly what Pope is going through.
A second world war-era plane will fly over Captain Sir Tom Moore’s funeral service in honour of the war veteran, who raised almost £39m for NHS charities during the first coronavirus lockdown.The C-47 Dakota, part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which operates from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, will perform the flypast.Moore, who died this month at the age of 100 after testing positive for coronavirus, will have his coffin carried by six soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment. A firing party of 14 will each fire three rounds in unison, and a bugler will sound The Last Post at the end of the private service.Six representatives from the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, where Sir Tom was made an honorary colonel, will then form a ceremonial guard.The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said: “In national emergencies, ordinary people do extraordinary things and inspire us all to pull together to overcome adversity.“Few will have heard of Sir Tom before this crisis but his contribution and example now live on in us all. The armed forces are immensely proud to contribute to the celebration of his extraordinary life of service.”Moore was admitted to Bedford hospital on 31 January after having been treated for pneumonia for some time and testing positive for Covid-19 the week before.His fundraising efforts during the first national lockdown in April raised £38.9m for NHS charities after his pledge to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday captured the imagination of people around the world.Moore served with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment during the second world war. The regiment later merged with two others from Yorkshire, becoming the Yorkshire Regiment, and Moore was made an honorary colonel last August.Moore’s funeral will be attended by eight members of his immediate family – his two daughters Hannah Ingram-Moore and Lucy Teixeira, four grandchildren and his sons-in-law.His daughter Lucy Teixeira, 52, said the service would be “quite spectacular”, adding: “There’s just going to be the eight of us under full Covid restrictions, we will honour him the best way we possibly can.”There are plans to plant trees around the world in his honour, with Teixeira hoping that the Trees for Tom initiative will result in a wood in his home county of Yorkshire and the reforestation of part of India, where he served during the second world war.“My sister and I have been creating the funeral that my father wanted,” she said. “He was very clear in his wishes and if he could have been put into a cardboard box, he would have done that, rather than chop down a tree.”She said she had received many messages from wellwishers, and that it was wonderful to see people writing in an online book of condolence.Moore asked that My Way by Frank Sinatra be played at his funeral and that his epitaph reads “I told you I was old”, in reference to comedian Spike Milligan’s famous epitaph “I told you I was ill”.The family has urged that people support the NHS by staying at home.Once Covid-19 restrictions permit, they will inter his ashes in Yorkshire, with his parents and grandparents in the Moore family plot.
It feels a little strange to start at the end with Gaizka Mendieta, but this is one that still smarts. The Spaniard, who was twice named the best midfielder in Europe by Uefa and captained Valencia to two unlikely Champions League finals, finished his career at Middlesbrough in less celebrated circumstances, as a knee injury and a falling out with Gareth Southgate dominated his final playing days.“I did not see Southgate becoming England manager at all but now that he is, he’s a perfect fit,” says Mendieta. “We had a good relationship at Middlesbrough as teammates but when he became manager he still wanted to be a friend, a mate. But he wasn’t honest. Rather than just say, ‘We don’t want you here, find yourself another club’, he would keep telling me I was needed. We both knew it was not true; why did he tell me those things? He felt pressure from the board but later told me he would have done it differently.”The transition between the end of a playing career and the start of a new one is something Mendieta deals with directly now, having recently launched Player 4 Player, a collective with Emile Heskey, Stiliyan Petrov, Michael Johnson and Gareth Farrelly that helps support current and former elite footballers on and off the pitch.Mendieta, now a pundit, DJ and restaurant owner in England, is better placed than most to advise, even if his music has taken a back seat during the pandemic. “I have been DJing at home, just like everyone else, but doing lots of playlists for people,” he says with a smile.Mendieta was in many ways a complete player, particularly for Valencia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A trequartista and winger disguised in a No 6 shirt who would take just as much pleasure from making an interception to stop a counterattack as he would from curling in a free-kick or penalty; a bouncing, blond bundle of energy between both boxes who would out-run opponents, and out-train teammates.That point is particularly important for Mendieta. Some of the best players look as if they were born with time and talent on the ball. Mendieta describes the most talented player he played with, Romário, as being “from another planet. I didn’t play with him for long at Valencia, but he was always three seconds ahead and so explosive, even though he was in his 30s.”Quick GuideThe Guardian shortlisted for 12 SJA awardsShowThe Guardian has received 12 nominations for the 2020 Sports Journalists’ Association awards, with writers Andy Bull and Michael Aylwin both nominated twice. The virtual awards ceremony will take place on 15 March; more details can be found here.Best sports newspaperCricket journalist Ali MartinFootball journalist Jonathan LiewRugby journalist Michael Aylwin; Rob KitsonSports feature writer Andy Bull; Hannah Jane ParkinsonSports news reporter Ali Martin; David ConnSports scoop Haiti FA president accused of sexually abusing young female footballers – Ed Aarons, Romain Molina, Alex Cizmic; Rugby’s dementia crisis – Andy Bull and Michael AylwinAway from the action (photography) Tom Jenkins Mendieta was different: his was a talent earned and honed. When he arrived at Valencia as an 18-year-old in 1992 from struggling, second-tier CD Castellón – with his father Andrés (a former professional for Spain and Real Madrid) acting as his agent – his training performancesdisplays brought ridicule from his teammates. “He will not be playing for us for long,” an unnamed centre-back apparently smirked.“Even though I covered a lot of ground and had a good positional sense, when I got the ball, I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t what I became,” remembers Mendieta, whose late development could be attributed to “swapping football for athletics for a couple of years” as a youngster. “I would play simply, not try a 30-metre pass with the outside of my foot. But my teammates had other expectations, and so I had to improve.”As ever with Mendieta, the late surge was well timed. Spanish football was undergoing something of a revolution, and just like the trim on the Valencia shirts, it was orange-tinted. Johan Cruyff had built the Dream Team at Barcelona that would win four La Liga titles in a row and a European Cup in 1992. At Valencia a young and moustached Guus Hiddink implemented his own Dutch mentality, with extra training sessions that would propel Mendieta from the reserves to the fringes of the first team. Of his own volition, Mendieta would stay later than anyone else.By the time Claudio Ranieri arrived at Mestalla in 1997, Mendieta was established in the starting XI but still not at his peak. “Ranieri’s style suited me: pressing with intensity,” he says. “It was the first time he had coached outside of Italy and he tried to make us train at 3pm. I had to explain that was not going to work with our siesta. He and I talked a lot. The training was very ‘Italian’. A lot of weights, jumping, squats. We would ask him: ‘Claudio, remember that round thing over there?’ He adapted but so did we.”By the end of the Ranieri’s second season in 1998-99, Valencia had qualified for the Champions League and won the Copa del Rey, with Mendieta scoring a screamer against Barcelona in the quarter-final and an outrageous chest-flick-and-volley in the final against Atlético Madrid, whom Ranieri would join that summer. The cup was Valencia’s first trophy in 20 years and is widely seen as a tipping point for the club, with the European success and La Liga titles that would follow.Mendieta was one of the best players in the world between 1999 and 2001, captaining Valencia to Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001, against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. A £29m move to Lazio in 2001 made Mendieta the sixth-most expensive player of all time, but things did not go well in Rome, despite some familiar faces – “I knew Iván de la Peña, Diego Simeone, Claudio López, Hernán Crespo, who helped me a lot”.After an underwhelming season in Italy, and a season’s loan to Barcelona, Mendieta had a choice over his next destination, with Lazio’s financial issues mounting. Despite offers from Atlético and Athletic Bilbao, the Basque-born 29-year-old surprised all by opting for Middlesbrough, joining on loan in 2003 and permanently (on a free) a year later. Steve McClaren, previously enamoured of Mendieta’s performances against Manchester United and England, had been determined to get his man.“McClaren came to Rome to sign me, to explain the project, why he wanted me, which made me feel very good. I knew [Alen] Boksic had been there and Juninho was there, but I didn’t know much about the club. I went there to see the facilities and signed. After being in Barcelona, Valencia, Rome, I knew where I was arriving. It was going to be a change. But Juninho was there, Bolo Zenden, Doriva, and they all spoke Spanish.”Mendieta took to Boro straight away, and had an excellent first season before injury struck. There were fleeting moments of brilliance thereafter, including two goals against Manchester United in 2005, and he continued to live in the north-east after retiring before moving to London.“McClaren was very good at man-management but training was very strange,” says Mendieta. “I said to him: ‘I need to train more. If I carry on like this, with the intense Christmas and January, I’m going to collapse.’ Not because of me, but that’s how the culture changed. It was partly led by the foreign players.“Now, people call football players athletes. That wasn’t the case back then, even though the culture in Spain and Italy was far more professional than it was in England. There were still some players with a little bit of belly, skilful technical players that would try and get away with it.“In Spain, we were lucky if we had time off in the week, and we would maybe get 25 days free in the summer. In England, I might get two days off per week, and one day ‘recovery’, plus I would get 45 days off in the summer. I was like, ‘what’s going on?!’”