A thankless but absolutely crucial job
The new sports auhtority chief should focus on long-term development
Thailand’s sport development has a new man in charge, but he’ll be dealing with old attitudes that have long hampered progress. And they are being presented glaringly just as Kongsak Yodmanee begins to grapple with his new tasks at the top of the Sports Authority of Thailand, replacing Sakhon Wannapong, whose term ended weeks ago.
Sports Authority Governor Kongsak is taking over in the wake of the Asian Games that exposed Thailand’s shortcomings and a widening gap between Thailand and the continent’s more elite sporting nations.
He must also grapple with the narrowing gap between Thailand and those countries that have until now been less fancied in competitions. The call for reform has been predictably deafening, but that is largely influenced by the old mindset that landed the country in its current difficulties in the first place.
The old attitudes are the foundational status quo of Thailand’s sport development, focusing on building an image, relying on knee-jerk quick fixes and flash-in-the-pan measures. Kongsak is being urged to upgrade sporting facilities not so much as practice venues for promising young Thais as for foreign athletes to envy when they play here. He’s being told to step up efforts for Thailand to host global tournaments – mainly for the sake of Thai pride and stature, and then whatever inspiration our youngsters might derive from watching would be a bonus.
Kongsak’s primary task, though, is not polishing the national stadiums or elevating the country’s profile as a potential host to world events. He must shoulder the responsibility of determining why some less-developed nations with relatively poor nutrition levels can still excel at various assertive sports. He must find out why foreign athletes with basically the same physique as Thailand’s outplay them. He needs to figure out why diminutive Thai girls are queens of the badminton court – in a sport that wasn’t even especially popular here a few years ago.
Such questions have been asked for decades but never properly addressed, instead running aground on the “usual excuses” – poor nutrition and weaker physique, inadequate technology and the like.
What is really poor in this country, rather, is the state of talent management, and nothing gets done about that. It remains poor because it doesn’t supply the instant gratification of mass popularity like a shiny new hi-tech stadium does. There’s no room for those responsible to take personal credit.
As matters stand, talent becomes difficult to spot. Only the wealthier schools host well-publicised tournaments where scouts might find the next national hero, and they’re compromised by nepotism influencing the selection of contestants at the higher levels. As well, consider that China excels at table tennis not because of its indigenous talent but because kids there grow up playing it.
And how can Thai swimming talent emerge when the number of pools is so limited?
In many ways, Kongsak’s job is like that of a teacher. He and Football Association chief Somyot Poompanmuang might no longer be around when their “students” win the World Cup.
Someone else might be the boss at the Sports Authority when the gold medals start rolling in. The people in charge today have to take the long view, understand they’re in thankless jobs, and derive their personal pride and satisfaction from laying the groundwork for future glory, no matter how distant.