|Can Thawatchai, Thaksin deliver on World Cup dream?|
|By ..Wanchai Rujawongsanti , Bangkok Post 10 July 2002 Edition|
days after the end of the finals in South Korea and Japan, the 2002
World Cup syndrome is still having an effect around the globe _
Millions of Thais are eagerly awaiting the results of World Cup lucky draws organised by several newspapers which could make them instant millionaires. Although there is a very slim chance of winning a first prize worth millions of baht, it could happen to you.
At the same time, Thai officials are riding the World Cup bandwagon with numerous ideas to help the Kingdom book its first finals berth.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is, in Thai words, ``dancing to the tune of the World Cup''.
The prime minister, who is not a keen soccer fan, has promised that the government will allocate a 100-million-baht budget for a project overseen by MP Thawatchai Sajakul which aims to push Thailand to make the 2006 finals in Germany.
Thaksin is the leader of the Thai Rak Thai party of which Thawatchai is a member so there should not be a problem about setting aside the promised funds for the scheme.
Thawatchai, widely known as ``Big Hoy,'' is not new to sports. In fact, he shot to fame because of his involvement in sports and this helped him when he moved into politics.
He was the creator of the so-called ``Dream Team'' _ a project designed to groom talented young players to win tickets for Thailand to the Olympics and World Cup. The project failed to hit its targets but at least it was the launching pad for some Thai stars including Kiatisak ``Zico'' Senamuang.
Thawatchai was the manager of the Thai national soccer squad which knocked out the formidable South Koreans in the quarter-finals of the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998. A number of fans still remember his actions on the touchline which many said should have won him an Oscar.
When he turned his attention to amateur boxing, he again had the magic touch. As the manager of the Thai boxing team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Thawatchai helped Thailand win a gold medal and a bronze.
Apparently disappointed by his defeat in the election for the presidency of the Amateur Boxing Association of Thailand and after not being included in the Cabinet by Thaksin, Thawatchai switched to taekwondo with the aim of delivering a few golds at the 2004 Olympiad.
But the project seems to have floundered as there have been too many conflicts among Thai taekwondo officials.
Now back in the sport in which he made his name, Thawatchai _ whose trademark phrase is ``Big Hoy won't do small things but only big ones'' _ is dreaming of booking Thailand's first finals place in 2006.
Realistically his target is unlikely to be achieved in such a short space of time. Asia will have a quota of four to five teams in the next World Cup finals and you do not have to be an expert to know that there are probably 10 Asian nations who are better than Thailand.
Is 100 million baht enough for three years of preparations and qualifying rounds? Probably _ if you already have a solid foundation.
In reality, we have almost nothing _ no strong national league, no youth development projects, no good coaches at every level, no proper schools programmes etc.
``This is not a dream,'' said Thawatchai. ``We can go to the World Cup or Olympics. I have said on several occasions that our players can fight with every team in Asia. The most important thing is that we begin working seriously.''
He is right.
A number of politicians and sports officials have exploited popular sports events only to fade into the background after achieving their personal targets.
Thawatchai has experienced all the problems in sports and should have learned from past mistakes. Hopefully, he will continue the so-called ``Thailand-go-to-World-Cup'' project if he gets a ministerial post in a Cabinet reshuffle expected to be take place later this year.
We will have to wait and see whether the project becomes a flash-in-the-pan.
In the meantime, the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) must quickly solve the problem concerning Thailand's English coach Peter Withe.
Withe has been criticised by the Thai press and certain FAT officials for doing a part-time job as an analyst for ESPNStar Sports during the World Cup.
It is not clear whether Withe's contract allows him to do a part-time job. Withe may think that his salary in Thailand is not enough so he has to find some extra money, while the FAT may consider this is not proper.
To get rid of any misunderstanding, both sides should sit down and talk. If they can't reach an understanding, they should part company citing ``mutual consent'', which in soccer often means each side will soon attack the other.