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Lessons from the London Olympics

The Olympic Games came to a stylish close on Sunday, with fireworks and creative performances.

Left behind are lessons that we can learn from.

The Games were perfect. First was the grandiose opening. Britain did it well, bringing back all the elements that created a great empire - particularly the industrialisation era.

Over 16 days, we also saw athletes' patriotism and determination. When they fought, they fought hard, giving all the energy they had. Eyes welling with tears were the usual scene when winners took to the podium, receiving gold medals and listening to their national anthem.

The Games showed us that years of training can do the trick. In some sports, athletes proved their prowess in just a few minutes or seconds, but stored in those minutes or seconds was knowledge and strength accumulated over years of hard training.

I'm really happy for the Thai athletes who won medals at the Games. Back home they will become millionaires, with so many organisations ready to reward them. It is said that each of them will get at least Bt5 million. It is estimated that for boxer Kaew Pongprayoon, the rewards could amount to as much as Bt30 million. But I feel sorry for other Thai athletes: though they could share some of the rewards, without medals they will not get much attention.

Such prize money has been the norm for years. And it is surprising that so few realise that it is a waste. State agencies and corporations alike know by now that prize money alone will not lift Thailand's ranking in the international sports arena. Like education in general, sports need investment if fruitful results are the objective. Like education, sports need huge investment. Like education, it takes years to know if the investment is on the right track.

Nok Air should be commended for its generosity in letting all Thai athletes at the 2012 Olympics fly free all year. (What's funny is that this was announced via a tweet by CEO Patee Sarasin. Nothing about it appeared on Nok Air's website. It is also odd that this was just announced when the athletes were returning. Would it have been better if it was announced before they departed Thailand?)

Prizes go to medallists, but generous givers and society as a whole ignores the fact that we should invest in all athletes, to sponsor their training, not just give away money when they win medals. We have also failed to push for legal amendments concern athletes' futures. Some American swimmers, including Michael Phelps and Dana Vollmer, could further their studies while spending time training. Many of our talented youngsters are, however, forced to quit sports when they go to university. How many know that South Korean Son Yeon-jae, the only Asian in the Olympics' rhythmic gymnastics, finances her training in Russia?

Would you be cheered to know that the Ministry of Tourism and Sports could likely win an additional budget of Bt2.79 billion for the 2013 fiscal year? (This is after the budget review ending August 6.) It's very doubtful that much of the total budget of about Bt9 billion will go to sports training. Take a look at the name of the ministry. Tourism generates about 8 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, so it's natural that much of the budget will go to promote tourism, not sports, which could enhance national pride but has no tangible benefit for the country.

The last lesson I learnt from the London Olympics is that behind the perfection is the imperfection. The modern Olympiad is the greatest event in sports. Yet it is also tainted by scandal and controversy. This year, South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam was forced to remain on the piste for over an hour after a clock malfunctioned with one second left at the end of her semi-final match against Germany's Britta Heidemann in the individual epee. An appeal from South Korea was rejected and the German advanced to contest the gold medal.

Likewise, boxer Kaew lost the gold medal to China's Zou Shiming. The later Thai appeal was rejected. Despite criticism following the match, the International Boxing Association still insists on not reinstating the scoring system whereby judges' scores show instantly on screen. It says the audience is distracted from the performance under this sytem. Do they know that the system in place now is unfair to both boxers and fans? When we take an exam, we need to know our mistakes so we can try to correct them in the next exam. The boxers are too busy to scan the scoreboard. But for the fans, it is fairer to know when a boxer has scored a point.

Like everything in the world, things can change. The London Olympics is now over and it is four more years until Rio 2016. Hopefully, all parties will know how to improve, not just the athletes.


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