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Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sports and politics
More and more politicians -- particularly those who are suspended from politics have become involved in sports.
In the past, one of the most popular ways for politicians to appear on TV was sponsoring a boxing match. However, this has become less fashionable because it is costly during the economic downturn and there are few crowd-pulling boxers.
Many politicians have entered sports by running football clubs and being bosses of sports associations among other channels. They apparently want publicity rather than financial gains as most of them are already rich enough or they can get more money from other sources.
Newin Chidchob plans to take over the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) football club and will move the team's home ground from Ayutthaya to his home province of Buri Ram.
''I am doing this because I love football,'' said Newin, who is still one of the most powerful politicians although he is banned from politics. Some PEA officials and fans are reportedly against the move because Buri Ram is too far for them but Newin insists it will benefit the club.
Suwat Liptapanlop, another suspended politician, has been president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand since 2001. He agreed to take LTAT presidency probably because he did not have much to do in politics as his Chat Pattana Party was at that time in the opposition camp in parliament.
Suwat is labelled as a politician who does not know how to play the role as an opposition member. The Nakhon Ratchasima native is now also an advisor to the Football Association of Thailand.
Former MP Pimol Srivikorn was secretary-general of the Taekwondo Association of Thailand when Yaowapa Burapolchai won a bronze at the 2004 Athens Games to become the country's first Olympic medallist in Korea's martial art. He has since become the association's president and saw Buttree Puedpong win a silver at the 2008 Olympics. Pimol will certainly become more famous by the time he can return to politics in 2012 if his taekwondo exponents win gold at the London Olympics.
Like other suspended politicians, Anucha Nakasai cannot take any political post so he kills time by being manager of the national football team. He promised to pay the team a handsome bonus if they beat Singapore home and away in recent Asian Cup qualifiers. The team saved him a fortune -- they won in Singapore only for the Lions to bite back in Bangkok.
Banharn Silpa-archa, former leader of the now-defunct Chart Thai Party, has been active in sports in his home province of Suphan Buri. Former senators Intharat Yodbangtoey and his wife Bussaba have been bosses at the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association for years. Most people may know them as the Thai weightlifing chiefs than as politicians.
On the international front, Thaksin Shinawatra became more well known internationally when he bought English football club Manchester City in 2007 -- one year after his government was toppled in a coup. After just one season, the fugitive former prime minister sold his stakes in the club and reportedly made a huge profit.
While many politicians know that sports can be a political tool, the coalition-leading Democrat Party seems naive in this field. Bangkok MP Samart Maluleem is one of the party's few members who has been active in sports particularly football and boxing. He is manager of Thailand's SEA Games football team. Its leader Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's involvement in sports is mainly about routine functions such as meeting athletes at Government House, watching football matches and opening sports competitions.
In fact, the government can easily use sports as a PR tool. As the Thai Premier League has become popular, the government, through the Sports Authority of Thailand, may increase the prize money for the champions from 10 million baht to 15 million baht. It may give rising tennis star Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, say, five million baht a year in her attempt to become successful on the professional circuit. The sum is not big and I'm sure that the government won't face harsh criticism and instead will gain popularity.
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