Muay Thai as Olympic Sport
by Fatso King
The topic of Muay Thai as an international amateur sport has been a hot topic here. From the reports of the 1st ever Asian Martial Games with Anuwat to discussions about unified rules to the current movement in the USA, Muay Thai is at the focal point. The 1st Asian Martial Arts Games have not had an easy time of it with the Thai press.
At a cost of 270 million baht it was criticized widely as a waste of money and event organizers for next year’s games in Beijing, China have been watching closely and taking notes to avoid the mistakes of the first games.
What mistakes? It would seem that despite a well chosen venue many fans shunned the Games in Bangkok because of complaints about bad judging, poor publicity, and overall disorganization.
The first Games featured judo, jujitsu, karate, kickboxing, kurash, Muay Thai, pencak silat, taekwondo and wushu and featured 980 athletes from 40 countries. The lack of proper publicity failed to attract fans to watch kurash, pencak silat or taekwondo. And in Bangkok one can watch Muay Thai in any given venue with exciting matchups. For example, the prior nights Ratchadamen and Lumpini had packed houses. Ratchadmanen hosted 2 series of Lumpini versus Ratchadamnen. The following night Lumpini was packed with Saenchai fighting and WBC flyweight number one contender Panomroonglek Kratingdaenggym. Needless to say, other events drew attention from the 1st Asian martial Arts Games.
The lack of education among Thai competitors and their teams was evident in the 57-kilogram kickboxing event. Thai Pongpan Plengsantiea and Kazakhstan’s Birzham Aukenov fight ended and Thai coaches promptly protested that Aukenov was unfairly allowed to win because of poor judging.
After some meeting of the Thai muaythai officials and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) as well as the Asian kickboxing federation president, the Thai organizer Santipab Intrapat came out to admit that the Thai fighter failed to score properly and the protesting Thai team apparently did not understand the difference between muaythai and kickboxing rules. The irony is then that teams are assembled quickly without fully understanding the sport.
The lack of information resulted in near empty venues for other sports such as kurash. The publicity never clearly made it obvious that some of the performance oriented events were instead much closer to dancing than the combat sport of Muay Thai Thai audiences came to expect. Kurash and Pencak Silat will not be included in the 2nd Asian Martial Arts Games in Beijing, China. Instead the 2nd Games will have boxing, taekwondo, wrestling, judo, wushu, jujitsu, kendo, Muay Thai, karate, aikido, kendo and kickboxing.
Neither are included at the event in China next year.
How this aligns with the Olympics is obvious. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is committed to maintaining 10,000 participating atheletes in each event. As a result events invariably get jetisoned in lieu of other sports which earlier in the bid to include karate and squash were eliminated in the second round of IOC consideration. With Muay Thai having a nation identifying root word in it’s name it obviously will not make the cut. Further the USA IOC member Anita DeFrantz has said ““Obviously, they have to be drug free. Obviously, they have to include women and men. And they have to bring some element to the program that doesn’t already exist. But that’s just my opinion.” With female boxing now being added to the 2012 Olympic program it’s safe to say Muay Thai won’t be considered. If the 1st Asian Games are to be any measure of the future likelihood of Muay Thai becoming an Olympic sport then we have to look at the first means of measurement: attendance. Thus far, Thai audiences don’t seem to care.