Boonlert's rallies hurt amateur boxing

Thai sports have been affected by two things over the past few weeks _ the infamous Bangkok Futsal Arena and an anti-government movement led by Thailand's amateur boxing chief Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit.

Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, centre, at yesterday’s anti-government rally.

The stadium in Nong Chok district _ which is now known as the Bangkok Arena Nong Chok _ was slated to be the main venue for the Fifa Futsal World Cup which ended last Sunday.

A few weeks before the tournament kicked off on Nov 1, Fifa rearranged the schedule and allowed the stadium to host only matches from the quarter-finals after it was found that the arena would not be complete in time for the opening stages of the tournament.

But after Fifa representatives made their final inspection of the stadium _ five days after the tournament started, they decided not to use the stadium. The reason was plain and simple: The Bangkok Futsal Arena was not safe.

After more than one billion baht of taxpayer money was spent to build the stadium, Thailand became a laughing stock in the eyes of the sporting world.

The stadium did not host even one match at the World Cup. What's next for the stadium after the World Cup? No one knows. Let us hope that it does not just stand there and become a monument to embarrassment.

There was not a single media outlet that did not point its finger at Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra as the stadium was built by his Bangkok Metropolitan Adminstration on its own land.

The setback could not have come at a worse time for the city governor as his term is expiring. The governor has expressed his intention to seek re-election. However, his popularlity seems to have suffered a decline as a result of the stadium saga.

Rumour has it that executives of his Democrat Party are considering other candidates, with names like Korn Chatikavanij popping up.

Meanwhile, Gen Boonlert, president of the Thailand Boxing Association (TBA), received a warm welcome from the government which hosted a reception party for him and his boxers after the team returned from the London Olympics with a silver medal a few months ago.

In the past few weeks, he led demonstrations to overthrow the government and put the country in a 'deep freeze'. He did not want politicians to run the country. Neither did he want democracy since the current government was legitimately elected.

Judging from his move, a coup and a military rule may be his preference.

According to some reports, he even suggested that the country be closed down for some years. It was not hard to see that his direction would not help but seriously hurt the country.

In my recent conversation with him, Gen Boonlert did not like any politicians of any political parties.

After his first demonstration last month, he mentioned to the public _ and also to me in person _ that he would lead another similar rally only if the number of the participants reached one million.

He also said that this weekend's rally would be the last no matter what would happen. After a brief protest yesterday, he announced that there would be no more rallies.

On the sporting front, Gen Boonlert's action has negative consequences on Thailand's amateur boxing.

Firstly, several key executives who have supported the TBA financially and managerially have resigned from the association because they do not want to get involved in politics and for the TBA to be associated with politics directly or indirectly.

Secondly, business executives, who are thinking about giving the TBA financial support in the future, are thinking twice. They too don't want to become involved in politics and anti-government rallies.

Lastly, Krung Thai Bank, the main sponsor of the TBA, has reportedly become increasingly uneasy with Gen Boonlert's move.

The state-owned bank has signed a memorendum of understanding (MOU) to provide 60 million baht over four years for the TBA.

The MOU is not unbreakable so Gen Boonlert's stance against the government may result in Krung Thai Bank terminating the sponsorship deal and this would certainly hurt Thai amateur boxing.

If this happens it could be a knockout blow for Thai amateur boxing as there will be two major events in the next two years _ the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea.

Reports say Gen Boonlert has submitted his resignation as TBA president but Kanokphand Chulakalem, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand, has comfirmed that Boonlert has not done so.

Although Gen Boonlert said he campaigned against the government as an individual and it had nothing to do with his capacity as TBA president, it is unavoidable that the general public see that the TBA had something to do with the rallies because he is still the association's boss.

The two events have hurt Thai sports in more ways than one. One can only hope that those responsible for causing the damage will find ways to rectify their actions.

Pimol Srivikorn is president of the Taekwondo Association of Thailand.

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Writer: Pimol Srivikorn