All the talk's about jocks


Our tennis and taekwondo heroes look for fresh victories in politics as the election looms

Running is what athletes do, and now we've got a slew of them running as candidates in the July 3 general election.

Wanasthana "Big Hoy" Sajjakul has launched a whole new party for this poll - Palang Kon Keela, the Sport Party - and the Chart Thai Pattana Party is fielding a heavyweight roster of boxing heroes Somrak Khamsing, Manas Booncham-nong and Sura "Khaosai" Saenkham.

But the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party is looking to score even better.

It's got Thailand's favourite football forward Piyapong Piew-on, former tennis ace Paradorn Srichaphan and Olympic taekwondo champ Yaowapa Boorapolchai.

"Ball" Srichaphan, 32, and "Nong View" Boorapolchai, 27, were on hand at this week's press conference where Piyapong put his name in the race, emphasising their party's ambition to create a better future for youth.

Both are close to Suwat Liptapanlop, a leading figure in sports as well as the Ruam Chart Pattana Party that recently merged with Puea Pandin.Suwat, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand, is Paradorn's political hero, quite regardless of his being banned from politics for five years when the Thai Rak Thai Party was dissolved by court order in 2007.

"His Excellency Suwat is my political idol - he's made many contributions to Thai sport," says Ball, who reached a career peak ranked ninth in world tennis in 2004, having once famously shocked the iconic Andre Agassi at Wimbledon.

View, who won the bronze medal at the Athens Olympics that same year, has no political idols, and she's frank about the reason.

"I don't really know the true nature of any politician, so I'm not sure if they're really what they seem to be from the outside," she says.

Interviewed separately, both Paradorn and Yaowapa say they were interested in politics long before deciding to sign up as candidates.

Ball, now a tennis coach, says he wanted to serve the country and didn't need Suwat to persuade him. He recently graduated from Ramkhamhaeng University with a bachelor's degree in political science and felt inspired to get involved.

Yaowapa says she was following political affairs long before a senior member of the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin approached her about running. She declined to identify the person.

Her bachelor's degree from University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, obtained earlier this year, is in the humanities. She was considering further studies in law at Ramkhamhaeng or political science at Chulalongkorn when offered the chance to dive into the election.

"I saw the invitation as a good opportunity, so I decided to join the party," she says.

Yaowapa went with Chart Pattana Puea Pandin because she likes its policies, especially those involving sports.

Sports encourage young people to keep them away from street drugs, she says, and there would be less social division if everyone had a sense of sportsmanship.

"I think the problems our country faces these days partly stem from people not knowing when they've won or lost, and whether they should forgive. If we knew these concepts better, the country wouldn't be in this state."

View says her parents didn't want her to get involved in politics, worried that her reputation might be damaged.

"But I think I made the right decision," she says. "I want to help improve society. If I cared too much about my reputation I'd be unable to make any further

contribution."

Yaowapa hopes to be the party's candidate in Bangkok's Lak Si constituency, her home district. Party executives will soon make the call.

If elected she wants to get more kids into sports. If the voters say no, she'll carry on, gain more experience and see what opportunities arise next.

"An election is like any sports competition - you can lose or win," she says.

Paradorn - the first Asian man to reach the top 10 in world tennis - believes he can offer voters a "new choice", particularly younger people for whom he's a sporting idol.

If elected he'd endeavour to increase the number of national athletes and

improve their welfare.

He hopes to run in his home constituency, Bangkok's Bang Bon district, although the party executive could opt instead for a party-list candidacy.

They also have to deal with Ball's eligibility to run: He did not cast a vote in the last election, and that could legally bar him from being a candidate in this one. He's appealing for the right to have his name on the ballot.

Asked about the country's lingering political conflict, Paradorn says politicians and

citizens alike should adhere to the rules - reaping the responsibility if they win and admitting when they're defeated.

"Some people don't want to admit that they've lost, and some people just want to win again and again."

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