Thailand is a paradise for volleyball
When the International Volleyball Federation gave the country the green light to host two preliminary rounds of the FIVB World Grand Prix this August - assembling some of the world's heavyweights including Brazil, Russia and Cuba - it was proof that volleyball players consider Thailand a playing paradise .
If there is one sport that has attracted a large number of foreign players to Thailand, it is volleyball. The country has hosted several international beach and indoor competitions every year. The players enjoy the natural beauty of the country and also compete with plenty of enthusiasm because they feel completely at home.
In addition to the Asian Beach Volleyball Tour - held annually in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung and Songkhla - and the Pentangle Promotions-organised World Tour in Phuket, the Thailand Volleyball Association has always got the nod from the FIVB and Asian Volleyball Confederation to host crucial tournaments.
Regarding the World Grand Prix, which was started in 1993 as part of the FIVB's marketing strategy to promote volleyball by conducting international competitions, Thailand normally gets a chance to host it once a year. However, the women's premier volleyball competition was not allotted to Thailand this time.
However on Thursday the FIVB named the country to stage two preliminary rounds in August. Nakhon Pathom will host the Group B meet from August 5 to 7 with Thailand pitted against three-time Olympic champions Cuba, current and two-time world champions Russia and Peru.
The Bangkok leg last year drew more than 7,000 spectators to the Keelawes 1 Gymnasium inside the Thai-Japan Youth Welfare Centre. The place gets another opportunity to stage the Group K preliminary round tournament from August 19 to 21, with Asian winners Thailand challenging current Olympic Games champions Brazil, Cuba and Argentina.
The good news delighted the fans, whose enthusiasm has reached a fever pitch. Hundreds of fan club members exchanged comments on the web board on Thursday, the day they learned about the FIVB's announcement.
From my point of view, volleyball, considering the number of people who watch tournaments at various venues, is one of most popular sports in Thailand. Many provinces, including Bangkok, Suphan Buri, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Sawan and Nakhon Ratchasima, have standard gymnasiums to host international tournaments and got thumbs-up from the FIVB, which passed the venues after inspecting them with a fine-tooth comb. Even the restive landlocked province of Yala in the South used to be a battleground of the World Grand Prix.
Furthermore, several Thais have been working closely with the FIVB and the AVC - including Shanrit Wongprasert, the AVC's vice president and an FIVB technical delegate, and FIVB referee delegate Songsak Charoenpong - to make volleyball one of the fastest improving sports in Thailand and Asia.
Volleyball development is greatly encouraged in Thailand, while international skill development courses and progressive seminars have been occasionally organised by the FIVB in the country.
Thailand has already gained great benefits from hosting major volleyball tournaments, including world youth and junior championships, Asian championships, Olympic qualification tournaments and World Grand Prix, but still has more work to do to make these tournaments attractive to spectators, not just for players .