King Bhumibol Adulyadej takes part in a sailing event at his Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin in 1989.
Thailand will bid its final farewell to King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday with a royal cremation ceremony in what is expected to be the most emotional event in the country’s modern history.
The king, who passed away last year, loved sports and was Thailand’s top sailor in the 1960s.
He was also a patron of several sporting events and associations, including badminton, golf, football and sailing.
“For more than 60 years, the king never abandoned Thai badminton,” said Charoen Wattanasin, one of Thailand’s best shuttlers of all time and former president of the Badminton Association of Thailand, which is under the king’s patronage.
“Without the support from the king, Thai badminton would not have been successful like it is today.”
When he was young, the king played several sports, including sailing, badminton and tennis.
He was the first Thai monarch to have competed in an international sporting event when he took part in sailing at the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games (now the SEA Games) in 1967.
King Bhumibol and his daughter Princess Ubolratana were joint winners in the OK dinghy class of the sailing tournament, which was held in Pattaya.
The king’s achievement was all the more remarkable because he built his own boat.
He claimed the title on Dec 16, which has since been Thailand’s National Sports Day.
The king and Princess Ubolratana with their gold medals at the 1967 SEAP Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded him the Insignia of the Olympic Order in 1987 and presented him with the Lalounis Cup in 2001 for his leading role in supporting and promoting sports.
In 2012, the king received the President’s Medal from the Badminton World Federation for his contribution to the sport.
When he was younger and healthy, it was a tradition for him to grant an audience to the Thai delegation for an international event.
He always told Thai athletes and officials that sports were not all about winning and that they must respect the rules.
“All sports must be played according to the rules,” King Bhumibol once said.
On another occasion, he said: “Talking about sports, everybody wants to win. But it is normal that there are wins and losses in sports competitions.
“Winning should not be all about winning a competition. You should also win the hearts of your opponents and spectators.
“[As Thai athletes competing in international events] you have two roles — one as athletes and the other as Thai citizens.
“Apart from trying to get the best results, you should also try to be true athletes and preserve Thainess.
“Doing so will help you earn praise from other athletes and participating countries.”
The king always encouraged athletes to put the sporting spirit first, and strive for victory and friendship.
“The king always told athletes to behave and adhere to the rules of their sports, no matter what the decision may be,” said Charouck Arirachakaran, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.
The king said international tournaments could help strengthen Thailand’s relations with other countries.
He saw sports as a tool for development.
“Sports are important in the development of the country and people,” he said.
King Bhumibol sponsored several athletes, including badminton star Charoen, who reached the All-England final twice.
In the 1960s, Charoen, who often played badminton with the king, went to Liverpool University on a business management scholarship given by the monarch.
Charoen said that the king told him before he left for England to also study the people’s lives and society there and then come back and improve his life and help the country.
In 2003, snooker player Noppadol Saengnil won a national ranking event in impressive style.
Noppadol earned the right to participate in the 2003-2004 Challenge Tour in Britain through a keenly contested Asian qualifying school, but his dream of playing in the professional ranks was being hampered by lack of funds.
The king, who had seen Noppadol play on TV, awarded the young player a grant from his personal funds to ensure that the rising snooker star would be able to participate in the Challenge Tour that season.
Because of his involvement in sports, several sporting events are named the King’s Cup in honour of the monarch, including golf, boxing and football.
The king inspired and encouraged a large number of Thai athletes to victories.
Thai athletes often pay their respect to the king after their success.
The king sent a message to the Thai boxing team during the 2004 Olympics.
“His message made me feel stronger,” said boxer Manus Boonjumnong after winning gold in Athens.
Manus also took gold at the 2006 Asian Games and silver at the 2008 Olympics.
The passing away of King Bhumibol spurred badminton star Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk to claim the biggest prize of his career.
He passed away on Oct 13, 2016 — the day Tanongsak turned 26, and he won the Denmark Open title a few days later.
With the win, he became the first Thai male shuttler to win a singles title in a Superseries Premier event.
“I am so happy today… so happy that I can give this gift to my king,” Tanongsak said, holding a photo of the king during the award ceremony.
It was the king’s passionate involvement from his hospital bed that inspired the Thai national football team to Southeast Asian glory in 2014.
Thailand came from 3-0 behind to lose 3-2 in the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
The result was enough for Kiatisak Senamuang’s men to end a 12-year title drought in the biennial championship after a 2-0 home win in the first leg.
Prof Udom Kachintorn, dean of Siriraj Hospital’s Faculty of Medicine, said the king, who was staying at the hospital at that time, watched both legs of the final on TV.
“In the first leg, the king woke up to watch the second half. He slept in the afternoon and woke up at 7pm [kick-off time] to watch the second leg,” the doctor said.
“When Thailand trailed 2-0 at half-time, the king asked his principal private secretary to phone Kasem Jariyawatwong, the team manager, to tell him that the king was watching the match and wanted to give them moral support.”
After Thailand won the title, the king smiled and said “brilliant”, according to Udom.
The king builds a boat by marking out measurements.
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