A monarch who has done more than any other for sport
The occasion of the His Majesty the King's 85th birthday is a fitting opportunity to look back on the leading role he has played in the Kingdom's sporting history, both as a lifelong exponent himself, and as a supporter and guide for Thai sport and its participants, from the grassroots through to the national level.
His Majesty has extolled sport's benefits to health, as well as the enjoyment and discipline that come from competition. He has also been generous with advice, guidance and encouragement for every Thai sports association and its athletes.
When Thai athletes face overseas competitions, His Majesty has been happy to grant them a morale-boosting audience and provide useful points of view to aid their success.
His Majesty has had an active interest in sport since he was a youngster studying abroad, having taken up skiing, sailing, rowing, shooting, badminton, go-carts, mini-golf and, for exercise, jogging, walking and cycling.
Integral to his participation has been a study of the principles of modern sports science. He has introduced these principles as a benefit to the everyday lives and health of ordinary folk throughout the Kingdom.
His Majesty has extended his support via royal patronage to the Olympic Committee of Thailand and national sports associations including the Badminton Association, the Athletic Association, the Football Association and the Yacht Racing Association.
In addition, he has presided over and lent royal patronage to Southeast Asian (SEA) and Asian Games staged in Thailand, and provided more inspiration to athletes in the form of the Royal Flame lit at the National Games and the National Youth Games.
But his Majesty has also provided more direct inspiration to Thai athletes with his own exploits as a sportsman.
On April 29, 1966, he set sail from Klai Kangwon Summer Palace in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, in the self-designed, 13ft-long Vega 1 OK Class Dinghy "Weka", navigating the 60 nautical miles across the Gulf of Thailand to Toey Ngam Beach in Sattahip, Chon Buri, in a record 17 hours.
A year later, His Majesty and his eldest daughter Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, then aged 16, shared the gold medal in the OK Dinghy class of the sailing competition at the 4th South East Asian Peninsular Games (now SEA Games), hosted by Thailand.
His Majesty's prowess as an athlete and his support for a diverse range of sports has been recognised internationally. On December 14, 1987, after a unanimous vote by its 87 members, the International Olympic Committee presented the Insignia of the Olympic Order - its most prestigious decoration - to the King at Sala Dusidalai, Chitralada Rahotan Palace. To date, he is the only reigning monarch to have received such an award.
Badminton was the latest world sport to recognise His Majesty's efforts, awarding him the inaugural BWF President's Medal, which honours individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the sport at both a national and worldwide level.
"I don't think any monarch has shown such a strong passion for badminton as His Majesty the King," Charoen Wattanasin, Badminton Association of Thailand president, was moved to say. "He has said time and time again that badminton is a sport Thai players can excel in at world level without being at a physical disadvantage.
"His Majesty played the game of badminton three or four times a week at the multi-purpose hall at the Royal Palace, summoning national players, me included, to play regularly with him. National players have received financial support from the Crown Property Bureau. In the past 10 years, Thai players have made a big impact on the world stage," added Charoen.
His Majesty has been an inspiration to all Thais involved in sports at whatever level. Both as an athlete and as a faithful patron of sport, he has given us all reasons to swell with pride and can justifiably be called the "heart and soul of the Thai sports community".
Long live His Majesty, a true King for sport!