The Thai athletes' failure to return with a gold medal from the London Olympic Games is an ominous warning that more needs to be done at the national level and lessons have to be learned from the Games.
The contingent of 37 athletes from 16 sports associations finished an overall 57th on the medals table in the Games, where 205 countries took part.
Thailand captured one silver apiece from light-flyweight boxer Kaew Pongprayoon and weightlifter Pimsiri Sirikaew and one bronze medal from taekwondo fighter Chanatip Sonkham, a far cry from four medals, including two gold, the country had won at the previous Games in Beijing.
It was the first time Thailand had not won a gold from the Olympic Games since 1996 in Atlanta, where the country captured their first ever gold through featherweight boxer Somluck Khamsing.
In London, a mix of youngsters, mostly teenagers, and veterans carried the hopes of the nation. The pundits predicted that they would win two gold medals but Olympic Committee of Thailand president Yutthasak Sasiprapa was very forthright when he said that he expected a gold medal only in weightlifting but not in boxing.
In fact, boxing is one sport that has perennially brought medals for Thailand. However, the chances of pugilists winning more medals were reduced when only three qualified for the Games.
Critics said earlier that they would return with nothing. They had a reason because the three boxers who made it to the Games were not the best of the bunch. They were from the second-string squad and hardly had any international experience or exposure. Kaew, 32, showed plenty of determination and made the sceptics eat their words by winning a silver medal.
Unlike other countries, an Olympic gold medal doesn’t matter significantly to a professional boxer in our country. But it does to an amateur boxer, who is guaranteed a cash bonanza from various organisations and individuals. In Beijing, eight boxers went to represent the country and only two returned with medals including a gold from Somjit Jongjohor. It proves the fact that it’s always the quality, and not the quantity, that matters when it comes to success in the Olympics.
The success of countries such as the US, China and Great Britain is due to long-term planning and, in China’s case, limitless funding. A small country such as New Zealand has focused on very few sports but came up with six gold medals. If Thailand wants to make the Rio de Janeiro trip a success four years from now, we need to determine which sports need to be given priority. The chosen sports should receive adequate funding, technical and coaching support and an overhaul of sports associations.
Our athletes have to be kept in top shape by hard training and given chances to sharpen their skills through international exposure.
Last but not least, they should receive financial support both from the government and sponsors from this year, rather than as a token gesture as is happening now at the end of the Games.
It is no use crying over spilt milk. The next Olympics presents a good opportunity for Thailand to win some gold medals. But as I said, we need to learn and change the way we look at sports.