By The Nation
Thailand has just completed a curious World Cup football adventure, the Thai women returning home with an embarrassing number of goals conceded, though not without a sense of pride. The 13-0 humiliation by the US team, the reigning champions, was followed by another heavy loss, 4-1 to Sweden. The focus in this country has remained on the solitary goal against Sweden, scored in stoppage time while the physically and technically dominated Thai girls were supposed to be on their knees, waiting for the final whistle.
It’s widely perceived that the Thai women’s participation in the finals of the World Cup resulted from a convergence of flukes, but there they were at any rate, representing the Kingdom, taking beatings and shedding tears. The match against the Americans proved to be no contest, owing in part to the Thais’ nervousness and dearth of experience on the big stage. Once nerves settled, the fixture with Sweden showed substantial improvement, the Thais managing to enjoy the game. The last outing, in which Chile prevailed 2-0, confirmed where our country stands in this sport.
Now arrives the time to set aside hurt pride and disappointment and urge Thai sports authorities to seriously consider ways to hoist the female footballers to the next level. They made it to the World Cup in spite of, not because of, official and public attitudes at home.
This is not to say the women should be made into stars like their male counterparts, who enjoy handsome salaries, unending media attention and state backing. Even when the boys lose embarrassingly, there are sports commentators defending them. The Football Association of Thailand has favourable connections with sports journalists and that sometimes helps cushion the blow of the male team’s humiliating defeats.
But now we should begin seeing a share of the financial support and attention diverted to women’s soccer. The first priority ought to be establishing league competitions sturdy enough to survive the years and build players and skills. It shouldn’t matter how little money these leagues generate. It’s a long-term investment in nourishing talent.
The current status of Thai female football players is easily compared to what our other women athletes have experienced. Our volleyball players began capturing the national imagination only after success came their way, and the same can be said of badminton and golf. Financial and training support came only after long struggles against the odds.
The proper response to the World Cup appearance came from a group of Thai women who are leaders in their various professions. They publicly encouraged the squad to fight on even in the face of daunting opponents. The loosely aligned “Power of Women” collective brought together the likes of BNK48 pop heartthrob Cherprang Areekul, badminton star Ratchanok Intanon, esteemed soccer manager and businesswoman Nualphan Lamsam, TV idol Patcharasri “Kalamare” Benjamas and popular actress Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul.
As admirable and attention-grabbing as it was, their appeal did not carry the necessary weight to get the sporting-powers-that-be to lay down a sustainable foundation for the team. The response to the team’s World Cup heartache has been mainly sentimental, and understandably so. But what’s needed next is exertion and determination, strengthening the talent pool by force of national will, so that if the Thai girls lose to the Americans next time, it would not be cause for mere sympathy.