SPORTS IN THAILAND: VOLLEYBALL, TENNIS, ENGLISH SOCCER AND OLYMPIC BOXING AND WEIGHTLIFTING

SPORTS IN THAILAND

Bangkok hosted the Asian Games in December, 1998. It attracted 10,000 athletes from 43 counties. Saudi Arabia pulled out at the last minute because of tiff between Saudi Arabia and Thailand over some stolen gems. The World Weightlifting Championships were held in Chiang Mai in 2007,

Thailand is on track to host a Formula One race under floodlights in Bangkok in 2015. A thai named James Wattana was a world class snooker place while still in his teens in the late 1980s.

According to the Thai government: Several kinds of Thai sports reflect the hard way of life people experienced many years ago, when hand-to-hand fighting, for example, was common in the battles that frequently took place. Even boys and girls were trained to defend themselves, as well as to attack, when necessary. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Volleyball, Transvestites and Tennis in Thailand

In June 2012, Thailand accused Japan of purposely throwing an Olympic qualifying match loss to Serbia, denying Thailand of its first ever Olympics berth in women’s volleyball. The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB)—volleyball’s world governing body—investigated the accusation but rejected the claim. A statement by the FIVB read: “The conclusion of the FIVB control committee is that there is no evidence to prove the existence of match-fixing.” Had Japan won it would have been placed in a tougher group at the London Olympics in 2012.

Members of Thailand's championship all-transvestite volleyball team complained that were kept off the national men's volleyball team simply because they had breasts and wore make up. The government stepped in and blocked their selection, presumably because they did not think it was good for the country's image.” The Iron Ladies (2000), a stand-up-and-cheer movie about a championship katoey-gay volleyball team and its lesbian coach, is the second-highest-grossing Thai film ever. It is based on a true story.

Thailand competed in the Davis Cup World Group playoffs four consecutive years between 2002 and 2006. The twin brothers Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana are internationally ranked. Their victory over Japan in 2006 advanced Thailand to Davis Cup World Group playoffs. The Thailand Open tennis tournament has welcomed players such as Rafael Nadal.

Paradorn Srichaphan reached a career high ranking of No. 9, the highest for a men’s single player in Thailand or Asia. Playing from 1998 to his retirement in 2010, he made it to the forth round of Wimbledon and beat Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt when he was No. 1 in the world tennis rankings. Extremely popular in Thailand, he carried the Thai flag in the 2004 Olympics and was known for his well-placed, powerful serves and his accurate passing shots.

Soccer and Gambling in Thailand

In the past couple decades Thais have gotten into betting on soccer in a big way. An estimated $1 billion is spent on soccer gambling in the World Cup alone. Over 100 million postcards were mailed in for a lottery to pick the winner of the 2002 World Cup. Several newspapers offered millions of baht in prizes in cash, cars and other valuables

Thais like to bet on European soccer matches, particularly English Premier League games. At least $2 billion dollars in such bets changes hands every year. One bookie in Bangkok told Reuters that his weekly turnover is sometimes as high $12 million. The phenomena has gotten so big that it has spawned its own newspapers and television stations.

To cover themselves bookies in Thailand place bets overseas to cover themselves and minimize their exposure. One bookie told Reuters, "We transfer part of our stakes to bookmakers in the region such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. We usually do this before the kickoff of each match via mobile phones."

In an effort to reduce the amount of money wagered on soccer, the government proposed delaying television broadcast of games by 30 minutes since many bets are placed at last minute right before the games begin. The idea was roundly condemned.

Teerathep Winothai is regarded by many as the best player in Thailand. In December 2007, Parongchai Vachiraban netted a spectacular 20-meter second -half free kick to give Thailand a victory over Iraq in the finals of the King’s Cup in Bangkok.

See Gambling

World Cup Soccer and the Thai National Soccer Team

The Thai national soccer team is the dominate team in Southeast Asia Asia but doesn’t do so well in competitions at higher levels. In 2007, it was ranked 113th in the world. In 2013, it was ranked 140th. The Thais co-hosted the Asian Cup in 2007 but did not reach the knockout phase. Most of the players are part timers. Home games are played at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok.

Thailand was in the qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup with Oman, Bahrain and Japan. The team coach, Peter Reid, had coached Manchester City, Leeds and Sunderland in the English Premier league. Reid was hired in July 2008. His last coaching job was at Coventry in January 2005. The Thai team managed to get some points by tying Bahrain but failed to advance to the second round after losing twice to Japan.

In 2006, monks were given permission by Thailand’s Religious Affairs Department, to watch the World Cup after it was deemed that the soccer tournament enriched their religious education by exposing them to worldly affairs. Massage parlors have tried to entice customers during the World Cup by promising them that masseuses would wear shorts of their favorite team.

Buriram United F.C.

Buriram United, formerly PEA Football Club, is a professional Thai football club based in Buriram province. The club has played at the top level of Thai football for the majority of their existence and is currently competing in the Thai Premier League. The club was founded in 1970 and their current home stadium is New i-mobile Stadium which has a capacity of 32,600. [Source: Wikipedia]

Buriram United won their first Thai Premier League title in 2008 and the Kor Royal Cup in 1998, as PEA FC (Provincial Electricity Authority Football Club). The club was previously based in Ayutthaya before moving east to Buriram for the 2010 season. In season 2011, Buriram PEA were the triple champions winning the (2011 Thai Premier League, 2011 Thai FA Cup, and 2011 Thai League Cup) in Thailand.

In Pre-Season Buriram signed Mikel Touzon as their goalkeeping coach. Due to their friendly matches performance, Buriram had terminated contracts of Igor Burzanovic, Lee Sang-Min, Ariel Santana and César Elizondo. On the first leg of the season, Buriram eventually loaned Ramses Bustos, Chilean Player from Unión Española and Chitchanok Xaysensourinthone, Swiss-born Thai-Lao Player from Yverdon-Sport FC. They also signed contracts with Carmelo González Spanish player from Sporting de Gijón, Juan Quero Spanish player from Rayo Vallecano, Javier Patiño Filipino-Spanish player from Córdoba CF, Kai Hirano Japanese Player from Kataller Toyama, Han Jae-Woong South-Korean player from Incheon United FC, Charyl Chappuis Thai-Swiss player, and Dennis Buschening Thai-German player. They terminated Ramses Bustos's contract due to his discipline.

In May 2013, Buriram United became the first Thai team in a decade to reach the knockout rounds of the AFC Champions League as a dramatic 2-2 draw with FC Seoul in the Round of 16 and change Coach Scott Cooper. They also continued their way through the quarter-final round of AFC Champions League 2013 with the 2-1 aggregated goals win over against the Uzbek giant, Bunyodkor, in two legs.

English Soccer

English Premier League. soccer—especially the teams Manchester United and Liverpool—are very popular in Thailand. Manchester United has 14 million fans, more than in England. Thai women love David Beckham. A statue of Beckham adorns a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. In Bangkok there are billboards with Beckham and Michael Owen selling soft drinks. Chang Beer is noted globally for its sponsorship of Liverpool's Everton football club, as its name and logo have appeared on the team’s uniform since 2004. A Thai player has played for Manchester City.

Kiatisak Senamuang, known in Thailand as the “Thai Zico,” became the first Thai to play for a major European League team. H played for Middlesborough in the English Premier League. In game between the Thai national team and Arsenal he scored two goals.

In August 2009, substitute Sutee Suksomkit scored a stunning second-half equaliser to earn Thailand a surprise 1-1 draw with Premier League Liverpool, 18 times English champions, in a game played in wet and humid conditions in Bangkok. Reuters reported: “ Thailand drew level when substitute Sutee combined with striker Teerasul Dangda in the 71st minute to split the Liverpool defence, before executing a clinical finish into the bottom left-hand corner. The Thai team was coached by former England international Peter Reid.

Thaksin and Manchester City

In July 2007, former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra purchased Manchester City, a soccer team in the English Premier League, for $182 million. The move came as corruption charges were being filed against Thaksin at home in Thailand. Where Thaksin got the fund to buy the team was an issue because most of his reported family assets were frozen in Thailand. On disclosure forms he didn’t declare any foreign assets, Thaksin told reporters, the money used to buy Manchester City “is still a mystery to Thailand.”

Thaksin hired a European coach and spent big money for played like Robinho, a Brazilian star that he lured away from Real Madrid. Even with a big payroll Manchester City was still a mediocre team that pulled off a couple of upsets but was also beaten by weak teams and ended up in the middle of the division.

Many thought the purchase of Manchester City was a political move to endear Thaksin to the soccer crazy working classes of Thailand that are especially crazy about the English Premier League. Thaksin remained active with the Thai national soccer team even after he was ousted in a military coup, bringing the team to Manchester to train for qualifications for 2010 World Cup.

Later Thaksin was forced to sell his stake in Manchester City to a United Arab Emirates -based investment group. The team prospered under its management and was the Premier League champs in 2011-2012.

In 2004, when he was prime minister, Thaksin offered to spend $115 million for a 30 percent stake of the famous English soccer club Liverpool. Initially he said he would use his money but later set up a company, the Sport Authority of Thailand, to manage the deal, and said government funds would be used. “We will but it in the name of Thailand. We want the Thai people to be part of the purchase.” There was a proposal to raise fund for the deal with a state lottery. In the end Thaksin pulled out of deal after the deal was criticized as a waste of money and that the government and the prime minister had no business investing in soccer team to began with.

Liverpool Fan in Thailand

Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “Thursday 19th July 2001, the day I was waiting for a long time since I heard the news. Liverpool is playing Thai team this day. I was really excited that this day is today! I couldn't even concentrate on learning or anything. Excited enough for not to feel hungry! I didn't eat all the food like normal, I always have it all. My friends think that it's weird and all of them were said that I was over-reacting. I told them that they won't know how I feel because they didn't support Liverpool the same as me. Only some of them were interested but they support Manchester United. They told me that they were waiting for the day that Manchester United will be here as well. They said that with happy faces even though they didn't have the tickets to go to watch Man U at the stadium. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life *]

“I got the ticket that Richard bought, he bought three tickets for the three of us (Richard, Phong and me!). The tickets had run out quickly for Liverpool and even quicker for Manchester United. We got 200 baht tickets (about about $5) for Liverpool, the cheapest one (200, 400, 500, 600, 1,000, 1,500 baht) because the other ones had run out after only a few days! We bought them on the second day, it was quick. We didn't get the ticket for Manchester United because it had run out in half an hour on the first day! They only sold 5,000 tickets to Thai people out of 60,000 tickets. Others they sold to the Singapore people and sponsors. Why did they do that? So da_n, really unfair. I want to know why they sold most of the tickets to Singapore people while Man. U. are coming to Thailand. *

“Phong and me quickly came out of school. I rang Richard on my mobile and told him that we were waiting at the bus stop nearby school. We waited for him for about 10 minutes then he came. We quickly went in the car because it was hot and we were sweaty while we waited. We were really excited and tried to go to the stadium as early as we could. The traffic was very bad when we were near there. We were planning to park the car inside the car park in the stadium but they said we have to have a parking ticket if we wanted to park there. We can't park there so we went quite a long away to park at "The Mall" department store. We had to walk back to the stadium because the traffic was slower than walking. First we thought we would be there early enough to choose where to sit but we didn't, the traffic made us late. So we had to sit just near the score board right at the back of the goal but it's ok for watching. We watched them warm up, I can see that Liverpool's players were tired, they moved slowly and didn't run that much. After they finished warming up, they kicked balls up to the seats and let people catch them. They didn't kick to where we sat, that upset me. They went back to the changing room and came out 15 minutes later. It's nearly started... *

Michael Owen scored the first goal in this match. That made Liverpool 1 and Thai 0. Michael Owen scored 2 goals in this match and then the manager changed him. We didn't watch it all 90 minutes because they (Liverpool) started to walk after 60 minutes. That made the game boring, so we walked out of the stadium and went back home first. We thought we were out early but there were lots of people earlier than us. It was really crowed and bad traffic. It took us nearly 2 hours to get back home. I was lucky to get the ticket and I was really happy that I came to watch Liverpool playing today. Now I can say that I am a true Liverpool supporter!

Thailand in the Olympics

By sport Thailand has won 4 gold medals, 4 silver medals and 6 bronze medals for a total of 14 medals in boxing; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal and 3 bronze medals for a total of 7 medals in weightlifting; and 1 silver medal and 2 bronze medals for a total of 3 medals in taekwon do.

Thailand won its first Olympic medal, a bronze in boxing, in Montreal in 1976. Payao Poontarat won the medal at the age of 19 in Montreal in 1976 in the men's light flyweight boxing. Thailand won a silver in boxing at Los Angeles in 1984; a bronze in boxing in Seoul in 1988; and a bronze in boxing in Barcelona in 1992. Dhawee Umponmaha won a silver in 1984 in Los Angeles in men's light welterweight boxing. Phajol Moolsan won a bronze in 1988 in Seoul in men's bantamweight boxing. Arkhom Chenglai won a bronze in in 1992 in Barcelona in men's welterweight boxing.

Thailand won its first gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Somluck Kamsing won a gold medal in men’s featherwight boxing. In addition, Vichairachanon Khadpo won a bronze in men's bantamweight boxing.

At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Thailand athletes won 1 gold medal and 2 bronze medals for a total of 3 medals. Wijan Ponlid won Thailand’s second ever gold medal in the men's flyweight in boxing. Pronchai Thongburan won a bronze in the men's light middleweight in boxing. Khassaraporn Suta took a bronze in the 58 kilogram women's weightlifting. It was Thailand's first medal outside of boxing and the first for a woman.

Prawat Nagvajata, a 43-year-old professor of computer engineering at Drexel University became the first Thai to participate in the Winter Olympics when competed in a cross country ski event at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He was 68th in 1.5 kilometers sprint, finishing ahead of three other skiers, and dropped out of the 30 kilometers race because of cramps. He also competed in the Winter Asian Games in 2003 and 2007.

Thailand at the Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London

Thailand had its best Olympic showing at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, where it won 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal and 4 bronze medals for a total of 8 medals. Manus Boonjumnong won a gold men's light welterweight boxing. Udomporn Polsak won a gold in women's 53 kilogram weightlifting. Pawina Thongsuk won a gold in women's 75 kilogram weightlifting. Worapoj Petchkoom won a silver in men's bantamweight boxing. Suriya Prasathinphimai won a bronze in men's middleweight boxing.Y aowapa Boorapolchai won a bronze in women's 49 kilogram tae kwon do. Aree Wiratthaworn won a bronze in women's 48 kilogram weightlifting. Wandee Kameaim won a bronze in women's 58 kilogram weightlifting.

At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing Thailand won 2 gold medals and 2 silver medals for a total of 4 medals Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon won a gold Women's 53 kilogram weightlifting. Somjit Jongjohor won a gold in flyweight boxing. Buttree Puedpong won a silver women's 49 kilogram tae kwon do. Manus Boonjumnong won a silver in light welterweight boxing.

At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London Thailand won 2 silver medals and 1 bronze medal for a total of 3 medals. Pimsiri Sirikaew won a silver in women's 58 kilogram weightlifting. Kaeo Pongprayoon won a silver in Men's light flyweight boxing. Chanatip Sonkham won a bronze in Women's 49 kilogram tae kwon do.

Olympic Boxing and Thailand

Payao Poontarat, a boxer, won Thailand’s first Olympic medal, a bronze, at the age of 19 in Montreal in 1976. He later held he WBC superflyweight crown. A one time flower seller, he won a seat in parliament as a member of the Democratic Party in 2001. In 2006 he died from Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 49.

In boxing Thailand won a silver at Los Angeles in 1984; a bronze in Seoul in 1988; and a bronze in Barcelona in 1992. Dhawee Umponmaha won a silver in 1984 in Los Angeles in men's light welterweight boxing. Phajol Moolsan won a bronze in 1988 in Seoul in men's bantamweight boxing. Arkhom Chenglai won a bronze in 1992 in Barcelona in men's welterweight boxing.

Thailand won its first gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Somluck Kamsing won a gold medal in men’s featherwight boxing. He celebrated by hoisting the king’s portrait. In addition, Vichairachanon Khadpo won a bronze in men's bantamweight. At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Wijan Ponlid won Thailand’s second ever gold medal in the men's flyweight in boxing. Pronchai Thongburan won a bronze in the men's light middleweight.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Manus Boonjaumnong won a gold medal in the light welterweight division boxing, defeating a heavily favored Cuban 17-11 in the gold medal game. During a congratulatory phone call from King Bhumibol he couldn’t stop crying and only managed to give one word answers. With a picture of the king He told reporters, “I fought for my king, who urged Me to be strong in my final bout. Worapoj Petchkoom won a silver in men's bantamweight. Suriya Prasathinphimai won a bronze in Men's middleweight boxing.

At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing Somjit Jongjohor won a gold in flyweight boxing and Manus Boonjumnong won a silver in the light welterweight , losing to a Dominican in the gold medal bout. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Kaeo Pongprayoon won a silver in men's light flyweight boxing.

Thai Women Weightlifters in the Olympics

At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Khassaraporn Suta took a bronze in the 58 kilogram women's weightlifting. It was Thailand's first medal outside of boxing.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Udomporm Polsak won a gold medal in women’s weightlifting in the 53 kilogram division. It was the first Olympic gold medal won by a Thai woman and only the third won by a Thai. One of Polsak’s relatives was shot and killed by drunk teenager at a party at the Polsak’s parents house in northeastern Thailand to celebrate the medal. Polsak said after winning, “I’m glad to be the first to get the gold medal. I’ve been training for more than 14 years and I’ve tremendous support. While many weightlifters relied on sports psychologist to help them focus, Polsak visited numerous Buddhist temples and consulted with monks to help her improve her concentration.

At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Udomporn Polsak won a gold in women's 53 kilogram weightlifting; Pawina Thongsuk won a gold in women's 75 kilogram weightlifting; Aree Wiratthaworn won a bronze in women's 48 kilogram weightlifting; and Wandee Kameaim won a bronze in women's 58 kilogram weightlifting.

At the 2006 Asian games in Doha, Qatar Thai weightlifter Pawina Thongsuk set a world record in the women’s 63 kilogram division in the clean and jerk with a lift of 142 kilograms and took possession of all three record in the 63 kilogram division.

At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakkon won a gold medal in women’s weightlifting in the 53 kilogram division. She lifted 126 kilograms in the jerk and 95 kilograms in the snatch for a total of 221 kilograms, eight kilograms more than the silver medal winner. Reuters reported: “Thai weightlifter Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon not only has one of the longest names of the Olympics, but also one of the luckiest. A fortune-telling nun advised the 24-year-old last year to change her name from Chanpim Kantatian to improve her luck, and the charm seems to have worked. "A fortune teller told me if I changed my name I would go far, so I changed it because I wanted to go to the Olympics," Prapawadee told reporters after her win. "Last time I didn't make it, and now I wanted to go in." The extended name didn't quite work its magic all the way -- Prapawadee failed in her attempt to lift a record-breaking 130kg in the clean and jerk. [Source: Sarah Hardach, Reuters, August 10, 2008]

Also at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Wandee Kameaim won a bronze medal in women’s weightlifting in the 58 kilogram division. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London Pimsiri Sirikaew won a silver in women's 58 kilogram weightlifting.

Vanessa-Mae Competes in 2014 Winter Olympics

Racing as Vanessa Vanakorn, her father’s name, and for his country Thailand, Vanessa-Mae came 67th and last in the women’s giant slalom. When the times for her two runs were added up she was more than 50 seconds slower than the winner, Tina Maze of Slovenia, and a dozen slower than the woman who finished in 66th place. [Source: Robin Scott-Elliot, The Independent, February 18, 2014]

“It’s so cool,” said Vanessa-Mae of achieving her dream to be an Olympian before she returns to the day job as a hugely successful classical musician. At 35 she was the oldest woman in the field. “You’ve got the elite skiers of the world and then you’ve got some mad old woman like me trying to make it down. I think it’s great the Olympics is here, it gives you the chance to try something new later in life.” Mae was happy with completing the course as a whole host of competitors failed to finish the two giant slalom runs

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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