Lacklustre Thailand in a sporting twilight zone
Asian Games underline the need for long-term vision
Thai sports authorities should take to heart the business motto “Only the paranoid survive”. The Asian Games gave Thailand some scary visions of the future, well beyond the increasingly acknowledged claim that our athletes remain stuck in the middle between the continent’s best and worst performers. The real problem is that, while the gap between our players and theirs remains largely unchanged, the gap separating Thais from weaker rivals seems to be
The rankings on the medal table don’t necessarily reflect this latter gap. Myanmar’s footballers
defeated Iran and the much-ridiculed Bangladeshis won against Qatar. The gap keeping Thailand squarely in the middle was illustrated again amid dashed hopes, with rude awakenings jolting sports like badminton and Thai athletes proving to be far from the leaders in track and field.
Our sports-development efforts appear focused on keeping Thailand the “conqueror of the SEA Games”. There’s apparent contentment at being the big fish in the small pond of Southeast Asia. It’s a pragmatic outlook, but it reflects an inferiority complex and, worse, it attaches greater priority to short-term plans and ignores the need for patience, always a crucial factor in sports development.
Football is a good example. The focus of the Thai Football Association is not on laying a solid foundation by training youngsters but on getting the best out of known talents and on the short-term goal of winning tournaments this year or next. Some quite telltale statements emerged from the FA after Thailand’s shock failure at the Asian Games. It seemed to blame the coach and players while claiming credit for facilitating the team’s travels and accommodation.
Our politicians year after year ignore the need to improve the national education system because that’s not where the votes are. It’s the same with laying the foundation for future sports. That’s not what gets the fans cheering. No one’s going to remember who discovered and sponsored the Thai athlete who wins an unexpected gold medal at a future Olympics. The talent scout will get no credit at all.
So sporting excellence in Thailand has little to do with groundwork. Our world-renowned golfers had to rely on their parents. Our gilded badminton players counted on their individual commitment more than help from sports authorities. The authorities never even spoke about women’s volleyball 10 years ago. Excellence in sport should come because of the administrators, not in spite of them. What’s been happening in Thailand indicates there is much yet to be desired where the authorities are concerned.
It might help to be paranoid, but it helps more to be aware that the catchy phrase “only the paranoid survive” is commonly misinterpreted. It’s not about an endeavour’s worth being measured by its short-term success. A little paranoia should have generous long-term vision accompanying it. Thailand, conqueror of the SEA Games, was being too paranoid about failing to meet its Asian Games medal targets to attach sufficient importance to building a solid talent foundation for the
Disappointment over the number of gold medals brought home from Indonesia will of course influence planning. We’d like to see everyone gather around the drawing board, mapping out ways to ensure that today’s kids – who care little about the 2018 Asian Games – can carry the Thai torch to future victories.