All in the family

For some of his charges on Thailand's Olympic champion taekwondo team, federation president Pimol Srivikorn is known as 'dad No.2'

President of Thailand's national taekwondo association Pimol Srivikorn, with gold medalist Panipak 'Tennis' Wongpattanakit. Thailand's national Taekwondo association

While having deep pockets and managerial skills are an integral part of a successful venture, empathy drives it to excellence as seen in the success story of Thailand's national taekwondo team, which under federation president Pimol Srivikorn, has brought home Olympic medals since 2004, including their first gold at the recently held 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

For 19 years, Pimol has used the strategy he put into developing a fruitful business to solidify the foundation of the team, resulting in a good mix of old and new sporting talent shining on the world stage. This has also been made possible via the services of Korean-born national head coach Choi Young Seok and his team, who together with sports science experts, have built a formidable national team under Pimol's leadership.

There is no doubt that his entrepreneurial savviness, cultivated from managing a family business and chairmanship roles, has paved the way to accomplish the goals and aspirations of athletes and coaches.

Working with his heart and soul while exercising the managerial skills of a corporate leader has taken the once little-known taekwondo federation to global recognition.

"To make a successful sports federation, you need to concentrate on the manner with which you manage and put together a proper budget because this eventually plays a huge role in the sport's future success," said Pimol.

"At the beginning, I had to cough up a significant amount of money to build on the foundation we see flourishing today. However, after we tasted success at the Olympics, the sponsors came along and today I am glad to say that they shoulder much of the financial responsibilities needed to run the federation smoothly. Once in a while, I put in the odd million baht for a need that arises but it is nothing close to what I put in earlier on. The success I see the players having today has been truly fulfilling and yes, worth all the hard work."

Pimol says Thai sports federations should be headed by people with a business management background since they are more accustomed to managerial expertise, which can include everything from interpersonal to communication and decision-making skills, which are at the foundation of running the system in a manner that results in success.

Thailand's Panipak Wongpattanakit, blue, and Spain's Adriana Cerezo Iglesias compete in the taekwondo women's 49kg gold medal bout at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. JAVIER SORIANO

Moreover, they also realise the importance of making themselves visible at an international sporting level such as being a member of global sports federations. He said connections can go a long way and fostering close ties with such entities is beneficial to one's own federation.

Pimol also credits Thailand's Olympic and Asian Games success to a youth development programme initiated by the local taekwondo federation.

"We have players under our care as young as 14. The Sports Authority of Thailand does not offer any development programme support to athletes that are young, so we call this age group the cadet level. Today, we have two world champions in this age bracket.

"Having them under our care at this young age can help us properly monitor their success as they reach the junior and senior levels. Our latest Olympic gold medallist, Panipak 'Tennis' is the product of this development programme."

Pimol said the "train the trainers" project, which sends the national head coach and his team to various taekwondo clubs to teach the taekwondo trainers the correct method to play the sport, is yet another programme directed towards creating new talent.

He said this is so athletes that are trained outside the national team are also given the right basics in case they ever feel the calling to test for the national side.

On the topic of government support, Pimol said that while things have become better than before, there was still a lot left to be desired, especially when it came to monetary issues.

Pimol said that for the most part, the taekwondo national team had to depend on themselves.

Being at the helm, Pimol Srivikorn is hands-on in every aspect of managing the association. Thailand's national Taekwondo association

Citing one example, he said that while the government covers the 150,000 baht stipend for a foreign head coach, they need to realise that to keep the services of the calibre of coaches like Choi, who has been with the side for many years and produced countless medals at both the Asian and Olympic games, this amount is double.

"The monthly salary of the coach is just one of many areas where we have to find our own financial support and thanks to our sponsors, we can cover them now. However, it was not always like this in the past. At the stage when we were developing our athletes, I had to fork out almost all the expenses by myself.

"It is a given that 85% of the time, an Olympic medal is made possible due to help from sponsors."

On a personal note, he shared that his role as a leader stretched beyond the managerial level to one where the athletes saw him as a family member. He also admitted that his concern for their well-being was like they were his own children. From seeing that they sat in business class for their flight to the Tokyo Olympic Games to putting them up at the Intercontinental Hotel for their quarantine period, he goes the extra mile to see that they are well looked after even after their competitions are over.

Pimol's ability to empathise with them has made them realise that no matter what, he has their back.

"Through the years, I have had incidents where I have had to personally get involved in the life of some of the athletes. One had an abusive father so I frequently had to take her in and find a safe place for her to stay. When Panipak [Nong Tennis] was younger, she had issues with discipline and her father wasn't able to do much about it. When I mentioned to him about enforcing a proper nutrition plan for her at home, he asked me to do it for him [laughs]. He told me that his daughter didn't listen to him. These days, Nong Tennis's dad sometimes refers to me as 'dad no.2.'

"Athletes come and go but those who stay a long time, say from their youth to adulthood, have become like family, almost like my own children. During the encampment period, I was very concerned about the Covid-19 situation, so we moved the entire team to Khao Yai, at a hotel just next door to my home. During those weeks, my wife personally cooked for them. We have formed a special bond with them. They come to eat at our home. We see them grow up in front of our eyes. Many have graduated, married, and started families of their own. We still see them from time to time, in fact, just last weekend they were over at our place."

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