Ex-football chief Worawi ready to take the helm if his services are needed
For most Thais, the upcoming Fifa World Cup in Qatar will be a distant football spectacle, involving a sport in which Thailand is a passive spectator.
In a long chat with the The Nation, he reflected on how he had got into the Fifa executive committee and what he could do to improve the Thai football scene.
Though he is no longer a member of the Fifa committee, he remains an honorary member and can watch the World Cup or other activities to which he is invited by Fifa.
With his vast experience, it would be interesting to know his opinion on the Thai football scene, the World Cup, and his thoughts on the Football Association of Thailand (FA Thailand).
At 71 years old, he is still strong, active, and amiable.
“I have something to do every day even though I am not managing the Football Association anymore, but I am still working, including exercising and playing football when I have time to spare.” Worawi said, as he opened the doors of his house in the Nong Chok district of Bangkok to The Nation.
Making it to Fifa executive committee
Looking back, Worawi’s feat of becoming a member of the Fifa executive committee is extraordinary because Thailand is a small country on the international football stage with no clout. No Thai squad has ever reached the World Cup finals, while their best finish in Asia is fourth place at the Asian Games.
There are several steps to become a member of the Fifa executive committee, but everything started when Thailand and two other member countries -- Malaysia and Indonesia -- founded the Asean Football Federation (AFF), Worawi explains.
“The correct term is member of the executive committee of Fifa, or exco in short,” Worawi says.
Reflecting on his appointment to the world body, he says, “This goes a long way back to 1996 when I was the general secretary of the Football Association. I thought that Thailand has no role at the international level so I thought of combining forces as Asean. Back then, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia were the main force in the region.
“In my opinion, apart from uniting Asean, I paved the way for a role at the international level. Three people from three nations held joint discussions and it led to the founding of the Asean Football Federation [AFF].”
Back then, the AFF did not organise any tournaments. After that, we combined with the Philippines, Brunei, and Singapore. Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar did not join due to domestic problems.
“I then brought Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar together, even though they had not joined AFF, because they were Asean countries and wooed members of the Asian Football Confederation [AFC] so they had votes in the big stages.”
Creating the AFF Cup
“When we combined together back then, we found we had no activities so we decided to hold an event that would bring revenue to the AFF. We held several meetings in Thailand because the federation had no revenue so we took on the role of host.
“Once it was finalised, we held a bidding for sponsorship. AFC Market [later changed to World Sport Group] won the bidding and it became the AFF Championship, but was known as Tiger Cup in the first phase. Later, it was changed to Suzuki Cup and recently Mitsubishi Electric Cup, according to the current sponsor.
“I can say proudly that this football competition was born in Thailand and I can also claim to have been instrumental in launching the tournament,” Worawi says.
How AFF got a member on Fifa's executive committee
“When we [AFF] were united, we had 10 votes, which we could use to negotiate with other regions including South Asia, Middle East, and East Asia when selecting executives of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). These regions wanted to join us because our votes were almost half of the total votes. This is the strength that these countries want to associate and join us because we will win when we vote.” he added.
How did Worawi make it to the Fifa executive committee?
“It was a sudden moment when we organised AFF Cup in 1996. The next year, Fifa was adding another position because there were more member countries, so Asia got one more spot in addition to the three it had already," he says.
“It was in keeping with our united position. So I proposed to take the additional position if Asia got another spot, as the representative from Asean. Back then, the three spots in Asia were taken by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and South Korea, so I asked for the fourth spot. Other member countries also wanted me to join because they would earn benefits after I joined. FA Thailand had always treated them well whenever these countries travelled to practise in our country so they fully supported me.”
“I faced one opponent — the J League chairman — but I won more votes and became a Fifa member," Worawi says.
A gift for Thai children
After Worawi was selected as a member of Fifa ’s executive committee in 1997, he managed to hold his place until 2015. While he was a Fifa member, he was also the general secretary of the Football Association of Thailand until 2007 when he was elected president in place of Vijit Ketkaew.
Interestingly, Worawi, or “Bang Yee”, became a member of the Fifa executive committee before becoming heading Thai football.
When I became a Fifa member, it [Thai football scene] developed a lot. For example, in 1997 Thailand's U-17 squad played in the World Championship for the first time when I was a Fifa member.
“Later in 1998, during the World Cup in France, I was selected as a Fifa head in Nantes to organise everything. When I was a Fifa member, I was a head of managing stadiums in the 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cups. Of all the World Cups, I am most impressed by the 2010 World Cup in South Africa,” he says.
The World Cup in South Africa also means more to him at a personal level as he was able to give some Thai children the experience of watching this spectacle. “That year, when I was the president of the Football Association, I had an idea to give Thai children a ringside view. So I organised a contest for children who wanted to go to the World Cup, asking them to write and describe the World Cup and their love for football. Finally, we selected 11 children and I paid for them to travel from Thailand to see the opening match in South Africa."
“I saw their sparkle and smiles and they were very happy. It was one of my best moments when I was working with Fifa and taking our children to see World Cup,” he says.
Apart from buying World Cup tickets for the children, Worawi also arranged accreditation cards for Thai press to cover the event.
“I do not want to return but if there is no appropriate candidate, I am ready to do for the country.” — Worawi Makudi
Worawi retains much of his love and passion for the sport, even though he is not managing the Football Association anymore. He is actively involved as chairman of Nakhonratchasima Mazda Football Club in the Thai league.
Does he still nurse ambitions of returning as president of FA Thailand? Worawi gives an ambiguous reply. He says he wants the next generation to take up this role. However, if club members want to give him the responsibility, he would not shirk.
“If [you] ask me right now, the association is currently trying to frame regulations to prevent me from being involved. I have to say that because it is actually like that,” he says.
“[Such an attitude] It is not beneficial at all. As for me, I am ready to do anything for the country but the team and the thoughts must go in the same direction. It was the same when I told you that we must have a committee from three leagues to recruit and ask members if those who are nominated are appropriate or not.
“I am glad to support new people but if there is no one and [someone] wants me to help, I am glad to sacrifice my time to work with our national football team.”
He is wary about sounding needy. So, he quickly adds, “But I do not want to say more because that would make it look like I want to return. In reality, I feel indifferent but many people said that things were improving when I was the president but it is currently going downhill.”
“I think it is logical to assume the situation should be better now than during my term, because revenues are now high and they can afford to do many more things,” he explains.
Worawi’s dream was to make Thailand the top football team in Asia and compete in the World Cup. That has not happened yet.
But he believes his stint has paved the way for the creation of a strong professional football league that generates adequate revenue to pay footballers, coaches, staff, vendors, and product owners well.