POLITICIANS have been quick to note how enthusiastic and crazy the Thai public is about sports. And they have seen the advantages to be gained from that trend
Over the past 10 years, two big-shot politicians stepped into the sports field and appeared to do well in it.
Newin Chidchob, the politician from Buri Ram, took over Thai Premier League club Provincial Electricity Authority Foot-ball Club (Buri Ram-PEA) in late 2009.
The then-banned politician’s landing in a football field at that time left no doubt about what his real motive was. And it appears that Newin moved to the right place at the right time – just after his political career began to look dim.
His arrival came as management of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) – Thai football’s governing body, as well as the Thai Premier League (TPL) Company – the body that organises the football league in the country – were facing public criticism.
During his six years in the sports field, Newin played a major role in scrutinising the bodies and their chiefs.
From the supporters’ side, there was a belief the political big gun-turned-football club owner would finally manage to clean up the mess Thai football endured under the former FAT chief Worawi Makudi.
And next week, Thai football’s governing body will get a new chief – if an election scheduled for February 11 goes ahead as planned.
It will be exciting for the fans – a new era for Thai football – without the dominating presence of Worawi, who had held the post for eight years, lost his position last October. He was disqualified from running again because he was serving a ban from all football-related activities imposed by Fifa.
Now, the favoured candidate is former police chief Pol General Somyot Poompanmoung, who was strongly backed by Newin. Former national football team coach Chanwit Pholcheewin – backed by Worawi’s camp – looks unlikely to win the ballot.
Previously, when Newin was going after the former football chief position some doubted if he really wanted to replace Worawi. But Newin, whose political ban ended in 2012, repeatedly said he had no desire to return to politics or take the top post at FAT.
“I crazily devoted my time to managing a football club because I really wanted to develop Thai football. Everyone can see how serious I am. It’s not child’s play,” Newin once said.
However, a win by Somyot will certainly turn the page to another chapter of Thai football with big support from Newin.
While Newin is almost certain to achieve his aim to conquer Thai football, his political mate Suwat Liptapanlop, is facing more challenges in his sporting ambitions.
The politician from Nakhon Ratchasima recently failed to secure the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand presidency for the eighth time after being the chief for 14 years.
Suwat was toppled in a David-and-Goliath-style contest by former national player Sombat Euammongkol, following a switch to secret ballot voting instead of the traditional hand raising.
But the result, 35 votes against19, led to turmoil on the tennis courts, as vice president Tawatchai Samutsakorn, the meeting chairman, declared the election void – citing unusual circumstances.
Some 37 tennis clubs, most of which voted against Suwat, are now expected to switch back to support the politician to resume his post. The clubs sent a letter to the Sports Authority of Thailand calling for nullification of the election result. In the meantime, Sombat is ready to fight and prove his victory was transparent.
Observers said the Suwat administration was no longer satisfying most tennis clubs, including his big budget spending for exhibitions featuring world-class stars, rather than sending Thai players to compete and get rankings outside the country.
Suwat, however, could be re-elected, depending on the governing body’s decision. But the shock results should be a lesson for both Suwat and Newin that no matter how much influence you have – if you fail to deliver, you could be punished in many ways.