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‘The heart and soul of Thai sports’

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His Majesty’s patronage for badminton played a key role in the Kingdom’s progress in the sport.

IT IS DIFFICULT to express the incredible sports achievements of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej over the 70 years of his reign.
His Majesty the King extolled the benefits of sport to health as well as the enjoyment and discipline that comes from competition. He was also generous with advice, guidance and encouragement for every Thai athlete and sport organisations. He extended his support via royal patronage to the Olympic Committee of Thailand and national sport associations including the Badminton Association of Thailand.
His Majesty played a leading role in the Kingdom’s badminton history, both as a lifelong exponent himself and as a supporter and guide for badminton dating back to when he captured the historic BWF President’s Medal in 2012. It was said that his “unparalleled support for and a love of badminton” had earned His Majesty the accolade.
In November 30, 2012, the then-president of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Dr Kang Young Joong bestowed the inaugural BWF President’s Medal on HM the King for his “lifetime contribution” to the sport, spanning more than 50 years.
The award was accepted by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Royal Palace in Bangkok to coincide with the BWF Council’s week of meetings.
The President’s Medal was given to His Majesty the King for his exceptional contribution to badminton, worldwide and in particular in Thailand, and for his support for the exceptional contributions that Thailand had made to international badminton, Kang said, adding that the medal also expressed sincere appreciation for all His Majesty had done to promote badminton.
“His Majesty is truly deserving of this accolade which has been given at the BWF President’s sole discretion – for a lifetime as an ardent protector and an enthusiastic supporter of badminton,” Kang said in his message regarding why the world’s badminton governing body decided to present the prestigious award to His Majesty. HM the King was continuously involved in badminton for more than 50 years. He played the sport since 1953 and granted royal patronage to the Badminton Association of Thailand in 1954. Over the decades, he donated trophies for men’s and women’s badminton; provided badminton facilities for national players at the Palace; and supported players financially through scholarships. 
One of those who benefited from his patronage was Prof Charoen Wattanasin, the long-serving president of the Badminton Association of Thailand. The professor was able to study in England thanks to a personal scholarship from His Majesty and he too had been a great servant of badminton.
“His influence and patronage have undoubtedly impacted the lives of many Thai players who have risen to be among the world’s elite, reaping rewards for themselves, their country and their beloved king,” Kang was quoted as saying in the BWF message.
The first President’s Medal was presented to a very special person, in the way the award was intended and conceived by BWF. 
Moreover, the King donated the King and the Queen’s Cups for the Best Singles Champions for both men and women, significantly elevating the status of Thai badminton at an appropriate time. His Majesty said time and time again that the game of badminton was suitable for Thai athletes, believing strongly that Thais could use their agility to overcome physical disadvantages and excel in the world arena, providing they were given proper support. 
His Majesty converted a multi-purpose hall at the Royal Palace into a badminton court and played three or four times a week, summoning a few national players as well as state officials to play regularly with him in the Palace. 
From then, Thai badminton progressed to a new frontier. Thailand became the Thomas Cup Asian Zone winner in 1957 and a world finalist in 1958. The Straits Times of Singapore commented in its sports coverage that the secret weapon behind the Thai badminton success was the King and Queen of Thailand, who directly boosted the morale of the Thai team. 
In 1958, His Majesty granted a personal scholarship to one of the pioneers of badminton, Charoen Wattanasin. Subsequently Charoen became a faithful servant to the IBF/BWF as a council member and later vice president from 1974 to 2005, and also a faithful servant to Thai badminton continuously for more than 50 years. 
In 2002, His Majesty recommended that the Siam Cement Group should support the Badminton Association of Thailand in a comprehensive way, and since then Thai players have captured several top badminton titles and progressed in the BWF world ranking lists. Without the patronage of His Majesty the King, Thai badminton would never have been what it is today. 
All this had proved the love of His Majesty towards the game of badminton throughout all these years. “I don’t think any monarch has shown such a strong passion for badminton as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej,” Charoen said. “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, a former world-class player.
“His Majesty was an inspiration to all Thais involved in sports at whatever level. Both as an athlete and as a faithful patron of sport, he gave us all reasons to swell with pride and can justifiably be called the ‘heart and soul of the Thai sports community’.”
HM the King also gave financial support to the sport through the Crown Property Bureau since 2002. Because of the King’s contributions, several Thai players have shone on the international stage, including veteran Boonsak Ponsana and sensation Ratchanok Intanon, who made an impact after being crowned world champion in 2013.

Published : October 19, 2016

By : THE NATION