We must walk before we run (May 3 2006)

By Wanchai Rujawongsanti Inside Story (Bangkok Post)

Football was introduced to Thailand long before it was in several Asian countries and the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) celebrated its 90th anniversary last week. The FAT was established 14 years before the first World Cup was staged in 1930. After nearly a century, Thailand are still waiting for their first appearance at the World Cup finals

Concerned parties believe that things could change for the better and are looking forward to a bright future. One good sign is that the FAT now has its own National Training Centre which was officially opened last week.

Every four years, Thai football officials will talk about Thailand securing their first World Cup spot and that time has arrived again.

FAT bosses are dreaming that Thailand will be a participant at the 2010 tournament.

FAT president Vijitr Getkaew said it would not be too difficult for Thailand to make it to the 2010 finals as well as the Olympics if the government funds Thai football properly.

Chaiyapak Siriwat, chairman of the National Football Development Committee, also believes that with support it will not be an impossible task to clinch a World Cup berth in 2010.

Chaiyapak will ask the government to allocate sufficient funds to hire around 20-30 players to create ''Dream Team II'' who would play full-time for the national side under the guidance of top coaches.

The ''Dream Team'' project would be costly. But it is debatable whether it would become a success story as no powerhouses in the world of football use the idea.

The players would stay together and gel but they would lack the experience of playing competitively week in week out in local or overseas leagues.

One of the most important factors for the development of a national squad is a strong local league. We have two football leagues _ the Thailand Premier League and the Provincial League (Pro League) _ but both are not very strong.

It is reported that next season's prize money for the FAT-run Thailand Premier League will increase to 25 million baht from the current 10 million baht.

This will make the Thailand Premier League more competitive. But it is inevitably seen as an attempt to knock out the Pro League, which is organised by the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

Chaiyapak is the chairman of the organising committee of the Thailand Premier League, so he should work harder to merge the two leagues before thinking about other ambitious projects.

Vijitr and Chaiyapak's calls for support from the government come at the wrong time. The caretaker administration can only act on urgent matters and a football issue is certainly not an emergency.

Their 2010 World Cup target is not likely to be reached. They should set a more realistic aim and come up with long-term development projects instead of trumpeting intangible dreams.

In the meantime, Vijitr could face a political blow. He was elected as an MP in his home province of Suphan Buri in the April 2 general election after two failed attempts. While Vijitr and other elected candidates have been endorsed by the Election Commission, the polls could be nullified by the high courts.

Vijitr would have a very slim chance of getting elected in a fresh election. A ruling Thai Rak Thai member, Vijitr was victorious in the April 2 polls because he was the only candidate in his constituency due to the opposition boycott.

The opposition parties, including Chart Thai, have promised to contest a new election. Chart Thai leader Banharn Silapa-archa is so dominant in Suphan Buri that few would dare bet against Banharn-backed candidates in the province which is dubbed Banharn Buri.

If a new election is called and Thai Rak Thai fail to return to power, it could be a major setback for the FAT since many of its bosses are Thai Rak Thai members including Chaiyapak. Good luck, Vijitr and Co.