Thailand - Sports

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Traditional Sports

Christian missionaries and the schools they founded provided the impetus to modern sports in Thailand. During the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), physical education began to appear in school curricula and ball games were played by students in Bangkok. Since then modern sports have spread to every corner of the nation and from the cities to the countryside as time went by. The Thai first learned such physical exercises as military drills and other forms of exercises. Later on they welcomed with enthusiasm such games as association football or soccer. Sports clubs were formed, tracks and gymnasiums built. The Thai began to abandon their own forms of sports and adopted the western types. But in the countryside ancient forms of Thai sports are still found.

The sports peculiar to Thailand, which from time immemorial have formed the delight of the people are; Elephant Hunting; Muay Thai; Sword Fighting; Krabi-Krabong; Bull Fighting; Cock Fighting; Fish Fighting; Kite Fighting; and Takraw.

Elephant Hunting

One of the most interesting scenes, which anyone visiting Thailand in the old days never missed, is the elephant hunt. It takes place every three of four years, in the presence of the King, at the kraal, near the old capital of Ayutthaya, where as many as 400 wild elephants are driven in from the neighbouring provinces.

By means of enormous drives, they are lead by force into enclosures made of huge logs laid out in a V shape. Therein with the help of domestic elephants trained for the purpose, young elephants, fit for work, are caught and taken into captivity to be tamed.

Traditionally elephants have played an important part in the history of Thailand. Many invaders have been successfully repelled by warrior-kings mounted on elephants. War elephants were always dressed in splendid trappings and chain mail was hung beneath the neck of each creature to protect its front. A war elephant's fighting load was three people. In front would sit the king or supreme commander whose function it was to engage in combat the commander of the opposing forces. Behind him sat the tactical commander who directed the rest of the forces by means of flag signals. At the very back sat the mahout who was responsible for controlling the elephant and keeping his superiors well supplied with weapons. The elephant had appeared on the nation's flag and on the first coins and elephant figures are carved on many old monastery walls.

Thai elephants were highly prized abroad. It was said they were brave, sagacious and amenable to training. As a traction animal the elephant renders invaluable service in the woods and in the sawmills where its great intelligence, coupled to an enormous strength, manifests itself in the most admirable way, in drawing logs and sawn beams, in pushing, lifting and pulling teak out of the jungle and into mountain streams for the several months journey they will make down the river until they finally reach Bangkok for processing. Lacking sophisticated steel machinery, without the elephants the forest workers would have no means of transporting the timber. Elephants as a mode of transport have been used in war as well as peace throughout Thai history.

In some remote jungle districts, especially among the Suey and Karen hill tribes, elephants are treated as domestic animals, living with their owners on easy terms of intimacy. The Suey have kept alive the old traditions of catching and training elephants for the various type of work they are called upon to do. It is these people who supply the trade in newly domesticated or captive elephants, responding whenever a call for a working male or female elephant is received from anywhere in Thailand.

In former days, elephant owners did not realize the importance of having their elephants trained. They normally allowed their animals to learn from practical experience. At the present time modern training has been provided by the Forestry Organization in setting up an Elephant Training Centre at Lampang in northern Thailand. Training always takes place early in the morning for a few hours. The hot afternoon is a rest period for the elephants.

The 'school term' begins in June and lasts till the following March with a holiday of three months from March to June. With modern training provided by the Forestry Organization baby elephants start from kindergarten and are guided to be fully acquainted with the working environments of the forest.

Baby elephants go to school from the age of four till eight. At eight years old they are fully-grown into adulthood and can work with great efficiency.

Elephants have suffered from the encroachments of modern civilization. Highways, railways, factories, have destroyed their jungle habitat. It is estimated that in the late 1800's, 200,000 tame elephants were used in the teakwood forests of northern Thailand. Small herds of elephants still roam certain parts of Thailand but unfortunately their number is diminishing. In 1979 there were about 90,000 elephants in the country. Today there is as little as 3,000. Since 1951 it has been illegal to hunt and kill elephants or to export the animals (except on rare occasions and with a special permit).

A rare and holy 'white' elephant has been found from time to time and they all join the royal household. It is generally believed that a white elephant brings peace and prosperity to the Kingdom. The elephant is not truly white, and is called Chang Pheuak in Thai. A white elephant is much lighter in colour and to win recognition as a white elephant must eleven determining characteristics among which are; pink skin around the tusks; pink eyes; transparent hair; twenty toes instead of the normal eighteen. These features are scrupulously checked by a royal expert. Only the King is allowed to own white elephants.
Thailand elephants should be treasured and protected for the generations unborn.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is an art of self-defence, which can be applied both as a sport and a combat device. This form of art has been practised since early times when Thai ancestors trained their sons to master the art for purposes of self-defence and national security. In fact, almost all able-bodied men received this form of training and great warriors had to be skilful in the art so that it could supplement the use of such weapons as Krabi (long straight sword), daab (one-sided sharp-edged sword), pole, bills and spears in order to be effective at close quarters when knees, feet and elbows might be used.

Formerly, Muay Thai was a Royal Command Performance, much as the Gladiator Tournaments were in the Roman Empire. In those days, Muay Thai promotion was not yet a profession and only the feudal lords could afford to maintain a boxing camp and this solely for the pleasures of the masters.

Boxing in ancient times was in the form of a single combat. The fight was more serious, exciting and thrilling than nowadays. There is no 'below the belt' rule so components can hit any part of the body. Elbows, backed with powerful biceps, can have the force of a mallet, but nothing is more chilling than to see a boxer hold his opponent's head in an arm-pincer and then bring his knee crashing into his opponent's face.

Boxers of those days had to bind their hands and arms from the knuckles of the fist right up to the elbow with pencil-thick starched cord, in a series of knots in a helical shape on the knuckles. There were no gloves as in the present time. It was obvious therefore that a punch on the face or merely a brush on any part of the skin might cause bleeding instantly. Another point to note is that there were not as many rules and that whatever rules existed were not as effective as they are now. Under such conditions, both contestants had to fight with utmost care, for apart from what has already been mentioned, even the head may be used to butt the opponent. The only thing that seemed to be prohibited was biting. In the course of time, definite rules have been laid down and improved.

Thai boxing differs from international boxing in that besides the use of fists against each other, boxers are also allowed to resort to feet, knees and elbows. In addition to the various punches - the straight punch, the hook and the uppercut, which are permitted in both types of boxing, the Thai version of boxing also recognizes a strike by fist after turning around the body first. If the opponent is off guard, not watching carefully enough and not lowering his head, he could be knocked out by this kind of turn-around punch, which is similar to the one resulting from the turning of the body, except that the impact is made by the wrist or the back of the hand, banging, or hitting against the opponent. Thai boxers still use all these punches today. In addition, some other parts of the body may be used and with a variety of techniques. The feet, for instance, can be employed and the technique varies from low kicking, high kicking, straight forward kicking, angular kicking and pushing which may involve the use of the end, the side, and the back or the sole of the foot. Thai boxers are extremely adept in the use of the feet by way of either kicking or pushing. Again, the knees can be employed in many ways, such as jumping up and assaulting with the knee, hitting with the knee while in a lock or by pulling the opponent forward. The elbows can also be very effective and deadly. There are a number of ways of using them. Striking with the elbow, i.e. directing it down with great force, intercepting with the elbow, thrusting the elbow parallel to the floor, the upward thrust, i.e. lifting the elbow forcefully, the outward push, i.e. against the opponent, the backward thrust which is effected by a turn of the body accompanied by an attack by the elbow in one of the various ways already outlined.

The Thai boxing ring is about the same size as in international boxing. The contestants do not wear shoes but are required to wear a pair of 4-ounce gloves and proper boxer's costumes, which include a pair of shorts (generally red and blue), and a protective pad over the sexual organ. They are allowed to wear anklets and also charms round the upper arms. In a boxing contest, there is a referee in the ring, two scorekeepers by the ringside, a timekeeper and also a doctor.

Bouts consist of five rounds of three minutes each with two minute rests between them, a slightly long interval but well merited by the pace of the boxing normally seen during each round. Of course, since this is a 'hitting sport', wrestling, judo and kicking the opponent when he is down or on the ropes is not allowed. Interestingly, no result is declared if it becomes obvious that the opponents are not really trying to fight properly or with spirit.

Most boxing camp managers are very superstitious and everything a boxer does on the day of his fight is dictated by specific sets of rules depending on astrological calculations. Thus on certain days the trainer will instruct his boxer to be sure to get into the ring first, while on other days he will have to be the last into the ring.

Also, according to old beliefs each day of the week is ruled by certain gods who live at different points of the compass. Evil spirits also rule certain points according to the day of the week. Thus on the day of the fight the boxer has to try and face the point ruled by the god of the day who is believed to bring him luck. Likewise he will always turn his back to the unlucky direction.

So the boxer will make sure he faces the lucky direction as he leaves his house, enters the ring or pays respect to his teachers before a fight.

The leaving of the boxer's house on the day of the fight is considered a most significant move and has to be carefully planned. In addition to facing the correct direction the boxer must also be sure to leave at the most auspicious time which has to be calculated according to ancient theories.

In any case all Thai boxers will kneel and wai the ground at the first step leading up to the ring before entering the ring. This is a gesture of respect to mother earth and to spirits, which are believed to be in charge of the ring. Some boxers will also go as far as to light candles and joss sticks and pray to their teachers. A boxer will be taught to say a short prayer three times and stamp on the ground three times before entering the ring. This is to bring on secret strength and to put a psyche on opponents.

Around each boxer's head there is a thumb-thick loop made from a number of threads enclosed in a piece of cloth. This ring is called Mongkhon. Wearing a consecrated Mongkhon blessed by their own teachers is a Thai boxing custom. The Mongkhon is worn by each boxer during the paying of homage and the preliminary dance. It is taken off only just before the opening of the bout. Some will chew secret herbs and roots in the belief that they will help prevent cuts.

To open the bout, both boxers devote a moment to wai khru or pay homage to their teachers, followed by a ram muay or ritual dance. The rite includes paying obeisance three times by an alternate gesture of lowering and raising the head, hands clasped, to show that they think of their teachers and all the sacred things in the universe, and also to pray to them for protection and safe victory. Then each boxer dances round the ring in the style of his own teachers.

The dances would have been taught to the boxer by the master of his boxing camp and each camp would have its own characteristic style by which experienced ring followers can tell the camp of the boxer. Indeed, a boxer's boxing capabilities may be accurately judged by his ram muay style - a skilled and artistic boxer will show poise and balance in his dance while a bruising brawler is more likely to have only a short, awkward dance. Such display is accompanied by slow-tempo Thai music played on a Javanese pipe, two drums and a pair of cymbals. After the boxers have removed their Mongkhon the referee calls upon them to shake hands with each other as a gesture of sportsmanship, while at the same time reminding them of some of the major rules. When the actual fight starts, the music quickens its tempo to urge the boxers to engage even more fiercely in the fight. In keeping with tradition, the music is never stilled until the bout finishes.

Today Thai boxing contests are all organized on a professional basis and there is no amateur Thai boxing as in the case of international boxing. Non-professional Thai boxing is carried on as a course of instruction in physical education institutions to preserve the art of Thai boxing.

Thai-style fighters have proved that they are not merely superior from a tactical point of view, but are a cut above any other martial art, having fought against karate and Kung Fu fighters and reduced them to mere mortals. Thai boxing is not a sport for the squeamish, but for the visitor to Thailand there is ample opportunity to see some hard-hitting professional bouts in the many large stadiums around the country almost any day of the week.

The World Boxing Association (WBA) recognizes the Thai native word Muay Thai as the official name of the Thai-style boxing or 'Kick Boxing' as the Japanese called it. This can be considered as an honour for Thailand for it was from here that 'Kick Boxing' originated.

Sword Fighting

Sword fighting or fencing with sabres is a very refined and complex art of self-defence that is uniquely Thai. This comprises the use of the sabre and staff, as taught from generation to generation with few changes down to this day and age. Originating in the era when Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand, it was developed into a fine art when Ayutthaya replaced Sukhothai as the seat of government. Phra Chao Seua (The Tiger King) appreciated it so much that command contests were often held for his pleasure.

Experts have traced this almost extinct style of fencing to a long-gone period when men of the Mon race, coming from the northern regions of what is now known as Thailand, were organized into special fighting units called Krom-Daab Sawng Mue or, literally, 'a sword in each hand'. These fierce warriors, it is recorded, had perfected their special style of two-handed sword combat, one that was based on ten basic positions (including those named, quaintly, 'dancing', swaggering' and 'checking'). In contrast to the attacking thrusts of the Western fencing schools, the favoured coup-de-grâce was usually a savage, carefully timed slash aimed at decapitating the enemy.

To get back to history and the origin of the art, it is necessary to point out the fact that it began as a means of preparing for war. In times of peace every able-bodied man, with no exception, was called upon to be as proficient as possible in the use of all known weapons. As practising was compulsory it was only natural for friendly duels and matches to be arranged that would bring out the champions who were judged by their beauty of movements as well as bravery. These tournaments also served as moral boosters apart from the pleasure they gave. It was specifically understood by the contestants that duels were of a friendly nature; therefore the choice of weapons was towards those that were not so likely to cause wounds, such as soft sabres, or padded swords. The modern age tends towards realism; hence swords of cane or steel are used, which provide for more thrills.

Before coming to grips, both parties perform a ritual dance to the accompaniment of a pipe and drum. The first movement of the dance is the display of gratitude and respect to the teachers who taught the art. The teachers in this case does not only mean the teachers who gave instruction, but also ancestors who were warriors in Ayutthaya from whom came the knowledge in this art of warfare. A triple reason exists for the preliminary dance; 1) to enable the opponents to assess each other's skill; 2) to build up their courage; and 3) it gives each man the opportunity to check up on the other to see that no protecting armour or padded quilt is worn. Presumably, one who is encumbered by safety devices would not be a light dancer.

The accompaniment and the movements of the dance (called Mai Ram) differ according to the weapons used. The instruments used are the Javanese pipe, the Javanese drum and small cymbals to give the beat. In the dance one could observe who is a good fighter and who is not.

This style of sword fighting was regarded as a national art and a means of self-defence until about 170 years ago, when, during the reign of King Buddhaloetla (Rama II), the armed forces were reorganized and equipped with modern musketry and cannon. The status of the art was relegated to that of a sport, and before long it seemed that the two-sword style was doomed to oblivion.

But somehow it survived and today according to experts' estimates, between 15 and 20 percent of the Thai population is skilled in the art. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated sportsmen, sword fighting is now riding the crest of an unprecedented wave of popularity, which puts it in the front of Thailand's national sports.


Krabi Krabong or fighting with long poles is one of Thailand's national sports of which the Thais are very proud, since no other nation cultivated it. The sport is a unique and wonderful art of combat and self-defence. It has been in existence for hundreds of years. The game was designed to cultivate the participant's bravery, strength and endurance, and to train them in the art of combat and effective self-defence techniques. Krabi-Krabong art was popular with the people, and encouraged by kings and princes. It is thus one of Thailand's traditional sports and an invaluable legacy from ancestors, which has remained a great treasure till today.

What is required for Krabi Krabong, apart from a lawn or yard, 8 by 16 metres, includes wooden objects called Kruang Mai. These wooden objects are of two kinds, one for ritual dance and the other for fighting. They are made of such hard, durable and light material as rattan and Sai-yoi root, and have the same shape and size as real weapons. Accompanying music is indispensable in Krabi-Krabong exhibition matches. Without the music, it would lose much of its flavour and fun for both the performers and the spectators. A complete set of musical instruments for Krabi Krabong consists of a Javanese pipe, a high-pitch drum, a low-pitch drum, and a pair of cymbals. The music is played at various intervals: during the paying of homage to teachers, during the preliminary ritual dance, and of course while the fight is in progress. The idea is to put both the performers and the onlookers in the various moods of the game.

In a Krabi Krabong show, the performers are invariably paired up, each pair usually using the same kind of weapon, but different weapons of approximate value are sometimes used.

Bull Fighting

Bull fighting is said to be one of the best tourist attractions in the southern provinces of Thailand. This sport is very popular among local people from Chumphon across the southern region to the southern tip of Narathiwat. Bull fighting does not lure only local people but also tourist to the fighting ring for the pleasure of seeing the fighting as well as for trying their gambling luck.

No one can really figure out when this game was founded with regulations for fighting. Some say this game was first introduced through the imagination of local people who saw bulls fighting each other, scrambling for a cow during the mating season. With that idea, the fighting ring was founded and bulls were trained to fight each other when they were put in the ring. The defeat of one side is decided by the opponent. The owner of the winning bull will receive money from bettors on the other side and from the losing bull's owner.

In the old days money was not wagered. Instead the villagers settled for perhaps a certain quantity of rice grains, or more friendly-like, a jug of strong locally brewed wine. But now thousands of baht are lost or won in a present-day fight.

Thai fighting bulls differ from regular bulls much the same as a racehorse differs from a plough horse; and once the lucky one is selected from fine quality stock, pampering begins which will last through the bull's life.

Bulls, which are suitable for this fierce fight, should not be over seven years old, the most preferable age being around six to seven years old. Other criteria in selecting bulls are its physical fitness, good proportionate body, face, eyes, ears and stiffness of its horns. There should be a big muscle above its neck, its stomach should not be too big and its hips must be comprised of large and strong muscle. Bulging leg muscles, strong back and an iron-like neck are the keys to success for Thai bulls.

Heredity can do much to produce a good fighting bull. If its father is a good fighter there is more chance that the son will also be a good fighter in the arena. Heredity can be judged since birth and the young bull will be specially raised to be a good fighter in the future. This is almost the same as for fighting cocks, which can pass on their abilities to their offspring.

At a casual glance, the Thai-style bullfight is a simple game. A spectator would imagine that it would take only a couple of strong bulls, put them in an enclosure and let them decide the matter.

But it takes patience, proper know-how and considerable finance on the part of the owner; strength, stamina and fighting spirit on the part of the bull. In addition 'black magic', horoscope and modern science all play a part. The more opponents a bull defeats, the more famous and talked-about it becomes in the community. Each village or settlement has its own 'hero'.

The way to maintain a fighting bull is also the same as the way to raise a fighting cock or to prepare a boxer before a big fight. The bull will be taken care of with good food and daily exercise. Normally, rich people and owners of rubber plantations in the South own a score of good bulls and they will give financial support to the bull keepers. These people are usually called 'patrons' and sometimes 'managers' when they do negotiations about the betting money before the fight. Some big fight might cost the manager and his colleagues hundreds of thousands of baht, depending on the reputation of the bulls.

Before the fight, the bull will be fed with high protein foods such as grain, bananas, eggs, fresh good grass and some vitamins. The trainer will take his bull for morning and evening exercises by running for a couple of hundred metres and for swimming in a river or canal. During the daytime, the bull will have a good rest by taking a nap to keep it healthy at all times.

Each evening, the bull will be put in the ring for a warm-up fight with its partner exactly the same as a boxer performs warm-up bouts. To prevent injuries, a rattan glove is placed over each horn. After the daily warm-up, the bull's keeper will help release muscle tension by applying a through massage on important parts of the bull's body. Some owners even have mosquito nets for their bulls to sleep under.

A fight may be staged during the rainy season. The weakness of all bulls during this period of the year is the horns, which can be dislodged during a clash. A special ground herb is applied and it is not unusual if modern medical service is also sought to strengthen the horns.

Earlier, owners will have gathered at a meeting presided over by a manager to match their bulls against likely opponents. After agreement is reached and the amount of wager settled, a contract is signed and deposit of 30 percent of the wager must be handed to the manager to guarantee that the bulls will in fact fight on match day.

Next the training starts. Frequently an owner will send spies to other training camps to see how fit and well trained the opposing side is. Notes are made of the weaknesses of the opposing bull and strategy mapped out.

Some trainers rub tiger oil on their bulls, in the hope that the odour of the jungle cat will scare the other bulls. Shark oil may also be used and in this case it is hoped that the awful smell will turn the other side away.

The bullring is usually made of bamboo or other kinds of hard wood with benches circled around a ring. The area of the inner fighting ring is not more than 40 square metres. There are two small poles in the centre for the two bulls to stand on either side of. Each match will have two or three rounds.

When the big fight day finally arrives the contracted owners bring their bulls to the arena and pay out the remaining 70 percent of the wager at least an hour before the fight is due to begin. A no-show will cause the 30 percent deposit to be forfeited. If a bull should fall sick, the manager must be notified at least three days in advance.

Owners with a more modern outlook may, illegally, turn to the use of injections. Though a 'doped' bull will usually win, the method has its drawback. A bull after several injections may become addicted and subsequently fail as a fighter.

The services of local fortune-tellers are also in great demand. An auspicious minute must be calculated at which time the bull will leave for the arena. Blessed rice and lustral water are sprinkled to ward off evil spirits.

Rules of Bull Fighting

At the third beat of the drums, the bull must be led into the ring by two seconds on each side. Bulls must be led into the ring facing each other. No tugging or manipulation of the ropes to excite them is allowed.

It is not permitted to beat the opposing bull but one can beat one's own bull.

If a bull falls down during the fight and does not get up within five minutes, it will be judged the loser. If it gets up and runs away, the judge will give it five minutes to come back and face its opponent. If it does not do so within the given time limit, it will be declared the loser.

If the horns are locked and not separated within one hour, the match will be declared a draw.

If during a clash, the bulls knock down the fence and continue their fight outside the ring, a drum signal to recall them will be made. The bull remaining outside after the signal will be judged the loser.

There is no specific time for each fight because each match is judged totally by a defeat of one side. As long as both bulls are fighting and neither of them runs away, the fight will carry on. When one bull retreats the referee will stop the fight and money will be immediately paid to the winning bull's owner. Usually, the winner of the fight will take all the betting money and the bettors cannot withdraw their money.

Some bulls may run away in the first few minutes of a fight if they are afraid of their opponent or have serious wounds. Sometimes both bulls suffer serious injuries and have a number of wounds on their bodies.

While they are fighting, each bull breathes deeply trying to get a strong resistance. They will keep their heads low for if they raise their heads they will present an easy target for the opponent bull to pierce its horns under the neck, which is the softest part of a bulls skin. Some bulls have good techniques, for example: they might pretend to retreat for a few metres and when they see the other side is in a bad position, come back and pierce its swinging horns in the neck; or they will just run into its opponent while giving big bellows in an effort to scare its opponent. These techniques might help them defeat the opponent; usually they are instinctive and cannot be taught by the owner.

The winning bull will receive an 'honourable' robe as its reward, and then it will be massaged and watered to refresh its body. Eggs and vitamins are offered to help it regain its strength.

Bull fighting is a fair game and it is one of Thailand's national sports and attracts a lot of tourists to the southern region. This game is being kept as a great symbol of the South.

Cock Fighting

Cock fighting is called the 'Sport of Kings'. It has a long and well-documented history in Thailand and devotees of the sport recall with delight an episode in the annals of the old Kingdom of Ayutthaya when a cock owned by King Naresuan the great, then a hostage in Toungoo in Burma, beat into submission the cock owned by the Burmese Crown Prince. The fact that so great a king as Naresuan took part in cock fighting has helped to raise the sport in the esteem of its patrons.

Cock fighting has a history stretching over centuries and its origins are lost in a maze of history. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that cock fighting originated in the ancient seat of sports - Greece around 500 B.C. and thence found its way to Rome, and the Romans introduced it to those parts of Europe they conquered.

Although opposed by the church in Britain, in the Low Countries, Germany and Spain, it took root and was passed on to their colonies. In Britain, Henry VIII had both a royal cockpit and a royal cockmaster. The sport was not prohibited by law in Britain until 1849, and it still survives there, clandestinely.

It is surmised that the sport began in Asia but is by no means confined to Thailand and Burma, for the sport boasts an enthusiastic following in Laos, the Philippines, Kampuchea and Vietnam as well. Some claim, however, that cock fighting in the Philippines dates back to days before the first circumnavigator of the world, Ferdinand Magellan, set foot on Philippine soil in 1521, before the country's first contact with the West.

In Thailand itself cock fighting used to be widespread and almost every little village could boast at least one cock-fighting pit. Even in Bangkok one district is still know as Baan Kai, or cockpit, to this day.

The big damper on the sport came after the Second World War when the freely operating pits were ordered closed by the government which suddenly decided that the cruel sport had no place in the country's march towards civilization. Pits could then be opened legally only on acquisition of an operating licence. Needless to say a large number of illegal pits still operated clandestinely in outlying areas. Cock fighting is mostly favoured in the central and northeastern plains.

Generally a cock-fighting pit has a flat, smooth earth base as the fighting arena, which is surrounded by tiers of seats and the whole thing topped by a single roof. The pit can also be used for fish fighting or cricket fighting. Licensed pits earn their income from entry fees, and gambler's and food vendor's contributions.

Most cockpits are open at weekends and on a fight day each trainer will carry his prodigy to the pit to be matched with prospective opponents. One of the features closely inspected is the length and size of the neck because, during a fight, the cock with the stronger neck can force down the neck of the weaker cock and peck its head of kick it.

Fighting cocks are a special breed carefully obtained by selective breeding and fed special diets. A good pedigree cock will have a deep red face and comb, a thick muscular neck, large and robust legs and an aggressive disposition. Those with yellowish feathers and tail feathers akin to a blossom are particularly favoured by the connoisseurs.

In breeding a pedigree fighting cock, the breeder will select a famous father, which has won several fights while the mother will have to be selected according to its physical characteristics. The father may be in bad physical shape - with one eye blind and its beak broken - and may need to be carefully fed till it has been restored to its original physical condition.

Apart from the scientific breeding of game cocks, however, cock fighting today is not very different from what it was in earlier days. However, whereas formerly a fight ended only when one of the cocks was killed, today unwritten rules give victory to the bird which either defeats its opponent or sends it fleeing. Game cocks cannot be kept at large with another rooster, for a cock will fight to the death with any other male fowl he meets.

There are two different type of cock popularly used in the fighting. One has no spur and is known as a 'leg cock'. It is known for its staying power and heavy kicks while the lack of a spur means that there will be no serious cuts during fights. The spurred cocks on the other hand have long spurs, which are filed or sandpapered to deadly points. Their fights do not usually last more than three or four rounds while the loser often dies from wounds. In certain countries the trainers are allowed to tie razor sharp steel spurs to the existing spurs to increase the deadliness but this practice is banned in Thailand.

The average fighting life of a game cock is only three or four bouts after which they are normally considered too battered to remain competitive anymore. The exception to this is the rare fighters, which can overcome an opponent with only a few blows and without injury to themselves. Such outstanding fighters are greatly treasured by their owners who stand to gain both from side bets and the sale of their offspring.

Great prestige is attached to the prowess of a district or village champion cock and inter-district matches are frequently arranged. On the day of the match the visiting side will arrive at the fight site in a long procession and in high spirits, just as in present day sports parades. Betting will be heavy, with everyone in a village backing his own fighter.

Fighting rules are strict and uncompromising. The fight is divided into rounds, or ann, as they call it in local parlance. Timing is done by floating a half coconut shell with a single hole in the bottom. The shell is floated at the beginning of the round and, the moment it fills and sinks to the bottom, that marks the end of the ann. The average ann lasts about twelve minutes. The cocks will fight for ann and rest for one ann while another pair occupies the pit so that, normally, two bouts will run concurrently. The duration of the fight is limited to 12 rounds, after which the fight will be declared a draw.

The use of oil, ointment or sticking plaster by the seconds is forbidden during the fight. Spurred cocks may have their spurs sharpened while a broken spur may be put on again but it must be the original spur. The beak from a dead cock may be tied on to replace a broken beak.

A cock that walks away from its opponent during a fight will be brought back to face its opponent and failure to continue the fight after three attempts constitutes a loss. A cock that squawks and hides its head under its wing three times is considered a loser.

Betting is an active feature of the cockpit and protection is offered to the betters by a rule that stipulates that the handler is not allowed to touch his bird during the course of a fight, not even to surrender when it is taking a beating. This is so that the betters can be satisfied that their bets are secure against any trainer 'throwing the fight'. A handler who touches his bird in the middle of a fight is liable to pay the dues for all the bettors in the pit.

At the start of the round the referee will place his hands on the chest of each cock to keep them apart, only allowing them to fight each other after the wooden knocker has been sounded to signal the beginning of the round.

The roosters will normally fly at each other just like two boxers, kicking and pecking each other's weak spots, such as the neck, head, eye, chest and wing base. A very strong fighter has been known to end the fight with a single kick to the neck of its opponent. But fight usually last much longer with the two feathered fighters engaging in flurries of activity.

Not all fights end with the spilling of blood. Some cocks after a tussle 'turn chicken' and automatically concede victory to the opponent. There is an almost heroic quality in the grace and nobility of a champion cock which struggles to keep its head up after being struck down, and refuses to leave the arena. When such a scene presents itself, there is no uproar in the gallery. There is only a reverent silence, followed by a deep moan after the referee has picked up the victor and declared the fight over.

Cock fighting, like horse racing, is probably interesting mainly because of the gambling connected with it. In Thailand, it is the betting that lends colour and gaiety to the sport. A Thai sportsman once said: 'If cock fighting has not been wholly endorsed as a healthy form of diversion, or a sport, it is because the excitement it generates is incidental to its real purpose. Cock fighting is gambling. Therein lies the fault, but the fault is not in the sport; it is in the people'.

Fish Fighting

Fish fights are usually performed in water basins or wide-mouthed, square glass jars three quarters filled with water. In the jar two bellicose fish engage in a fight. Naturally brown in colour they turn fiery red as soon as they find themselves confronted, and rush at one another with great rage. Surrounding the jar are cheering spectators, shouting and yelling similar to that at a boxing stadium.

Fighting fish (Betta splendens) are found all over the east, but the fiercest and most beautiful ones can only be found in Thailand. They come into action sideways with distended gill-plates and fluttering fins. The long waving tails shimmer like silken flags and action is joined, bits of silken fins and tails are chewed off and spat out in all directions. Often both victor and vanquished die after the fight, which sometimes lasts a whole day. When exhausted they will lie at the bottom of the jar gasping for breath, but still full of fight. As long as their colour does not pale and two dark streaks do not show on their bodies, they will continue fighting after they have regained their wind. The Thai fighting fish will fight to the death.

When both fighters lie gasping at the bottom of the jar, with the dark streaks showing but their bodies not pale, a new fish is put in the jar, and the contestant that pales on seeing it and swims away is judged the loser. If both pale and flee, then the bout is declared a draw.

These fish are captured in swamps, but before they are ready for the fighting arena, they must be bred and rebred for quite a few generations according to ways known only by a limited number of experts. The fish have to acquire the power to stay long periods under the water and must be rendered fierce. The forebears of Thai fighting fish had only two lines on their bodies. Later fanciers crossed them, obtaining new strains. The original strains are know as the Louk-Thoung and Louk-Pa. The Louk-Thoung are so called because they are found in water holes in rice fields. The Louk-Pa, as the name signifies, are found in jungle water holes or remote, stagnant pools. Both strains of fighting fish have very sharp teeth that can bite off parts of their bodies during contest. These fish in their wild state do not have much stamina and their fights do not last very long. Before gamblers can work themselves up into a frenzy of betting, one fish may already be vanquished. Hence fanciers have to breed new strains, concentrating on fighting ability. As a result of breeding, many new hues in the colour of the fish will be obtained. There are red, blue, a blend of both colours, purplish yellow, pink, brown and even black. Because the fish are bred in earthen jars till fully grown, the earn the name Louk-Maw, which means offspring of the earthen jar or combatants.

At the fighting rendezvous, owners will place their fish close to another to pair them off for a fight. Some owners are wily, using special jars, which make their fish appear small from outside. If a trainer is not careful, he will find himself pairing his fish with one much larger than his own. Once put in the fighting bowl, nothing can be done to withdraw the fish because the contract to fight has already been made and the stakes laid. The proper way to study a fish in a jar is to look at it from above to judge its size.

When the stakes have been agreed upon and deposits made, the respective owners of the fish will dip their fighters in the bowl used for the contest. The winning fish will be taken good care of by its owner while the owner of the loser may revenge himself on it for losing him money and toss it to a chicken for dinner. The winning fish will be placed in a treatment bowl. The tranquillity of the place where the bowl is kept and the murkiness of the water will prevent it from seeing anything, restraining it from swimming so that its wounds may heal quickly. Usually fish will recuperate in about a week's time. Any strain that wins continuously will be in great demand and automatically fetch high prices. Only professional fish fighters know the difference between the two breeds.

Kite Fighting

Kite fighting or kite flying is one of Thailand's most enthralling traditional sports. Legend has it that the kite was made by a farmer as a spirit to help ensure a good harvest. This type of sport has been popular since the Sukhothai period. According to Thai annals, Phra Ruang of Sukhothai loved to fly kites. In 1358 kite flying above the royal palace was prohibited. In the memoirs of Monsieur La Loubère, Louis XIV's envoy to the court of King Narai in 1688, the writer mentioned kite flying in the country was very popular. King Narai's kite, was frequently observed throughout the winter months, with royal courtiers keeping close watch on the kite.

Kites also played an important role in the breakthrough of a region's defences. In the reign of King Petch Raja, Nakhon Ratchasima revolted against Ayutthaya in 1689. An army was sent to suppress the revolt but the town's people were so well organized that the capital's army could do nothing to them.

The following year saw the return of the King's army whose commander devised a unique way to burn the city. He tied pots of explosives to the strings of kites and flew them over the town, burning houses and causing so much chaos that the people had to surrender. The annals also mention that in the reign of Phra Chao Seua (The Tiger King) who immediately succeeded King Petch Raja was said to spend his summer evenings flying kites on the open ground south-west of the Royal Palace.

It is clear from what was recorded that the King particularly enjoyed kite flying. Perhaps kite flying had already developed into fighting during the Ayutthaya period, or even the reign of King U-Thong (1350-1369). This was possibly the reason why the King was prompted to issue the palace law prohibiting kite flying over the palace. It is safe to say that kite fighting started in Thailand sometime around the reign of King Petch Raja circa. A.D. 1688.

The kite, it appears, had its origin in China two and a half thousand years ago and rapidly acquired religious, magical and ceremonial significance. A 'Kites' Day is observed in China. Kites seem to have reached Korea, Japan, and the neighbouring south-eastern countries, including India, from China, and thence to Arab countries, during the first millennium A.D. It appears that the Europeans in Indonesia carried the kite to Europe and from there to the United States of America.

Kite flying has been popular in America ever since Benjamin Franklin proved his theories about electricity by kite flying in 1752. Today it is more popular than ever, and the annual Great Boston Kite Festival is one of the biggest kiting events in the United States.

Japanese chronicles mention kites being used in warfare to fly men into and out of beleaguered cities. In China a great deal of symbolism is included both in the design of the kite and in its decoration. Calligraphic inscriptions are written on the kites. In rather more recent times kite flying is indulged in principally as a sport, all over the Orient.

Kite flying is enjoyed in Thailand in a manner different from other countries, since it has been devised as a form of contest. In other countries kites are flown simply as objects made to fly and remain relatively immobile in the air. The fact that the Thai version of kite flying has various fighting manoeuvres, including methods of forcing each other down or disarming opponents kites, which determine victory or defeat, justifies its role as a sport in which contests are possible. Beside, kite flying provides opportunities for betting. The contestant whose kite is brought down would be the loser, thereby having to pay and agreed amount of bets on the result of a particular kite fight.

Kite flying is a two-man operation, the handler and the launcher. As the kites are so large, two men are needed to launch each one. The launcher holds the central part of the frame in his right hand and the string, which is loosely joined to the two ends, in his left. The roll of string is held by the second man who stands facing the kite about twenty yards away. The launcher stands facing the direction from which the wind is blowing, and launches the kite by throwing it up into the wind. When it is in the air, the launcher either assumes control or he make take turns with the second man.

Great care and skill are required to land a kite without damaging it. Once again the two men work as a team and the launcher will wait to catch the kite as the other man brings it slowly down taking care to prevent it crashing to the ground.

There is a big variety of Thai kites, but the most remarkable and most popular is the Chula and the Pak-pao. Other kites are made in many different shapes and styles - butterfly, birds, snakes, fish and human beings. Of the more traditional types, there is the Tui-tui which gives out a melodious noise when flying against the wind. Spanning 8 feet and 10 feet from head to tail, the Tui-tui is a giant among kites and flies to heights of more than 1,500 feet under ground control in variable winds.

Kite flying is in season through the summer months in Thailand - from the end of February to beginning of June when the northerly wind is blowing incessantly, signifying that once again it is the time of the year for that leisurely sport favoured by thousands of people - young and old alike.

Kites are usually flown for pleasure, but sometimes competitions are held to judge which is the most beautifully decorated or the best shaped, which can fly the longest in a particular way and which has the most powerful 'voice'. There are also competitions to decide which team can launch and handle a kite most successfully. The objective of a competitive kite flier is to manoeuvre his kite windward of his opponent's so that its string brushes against that of his adversary. It is a sneaky but exciting way to destroy his 'enemy'. Powered glass and forest gum applied to the triple strand string also helps. Some kite fights can last for hours, from dawn until dusk. They invariably take place amid loud cheers when a whole village turns out to watch the air battles.

Kite fighting, in any event, is an art, which requires through training and practice, and involves considerable strategy and ability to take advantage of the wind. The flyers must be fairly strong and must have stamina. They must also have good eyesight, because the kites involved in a combat are normally high up in the air. Besides, they must be quick in making decisions when their kite is under difficulties.

Only two kinds of kites are used in official fighting: the Chula, representing the male, and the Pak-pao, the female. Like human beings when engaged in fighting the kites will look like two people fighting, each using strategy and feinting to use its weapon to advantage. The Chula is a vast, star shaped production that requires something like ten people to handle, and is really more like a small glider than a kite.

There are two sizes of Chula kite. The larger can be up to six feet tall, while the smaller is limited to five feet five inches. Other regulations limit various dimensions, including length of string anchor beneath the kite. The Chula 'weapons' are five sets of hooks called champa. These must be made of bamboo (metal would be more effective but is not allowed in competition flying), and their size is again controlled.

The Chula moves majestically across the sky. It is not very manoeuvrable, and relies on sheer power rather than tractability. That power comes from the team of string pullers who work under the direction of the kite handler, who holds a kind of pulley round which the cord is looped.

The team of pullers pull the string by running around in a coordinated circle behind the chief handler. Their combined strength is fully needed when the Chula has made a grab in battle and wants to gain height and move back towards its own territory, the Chula at this point can climb like a jet plane taking off.

The female kite - the Pak-Pao - is rhombus shaped, with a long flowing tail for stability, and also comes in two sizes, the large 34 and a half inch and the smaller 28 and a half inch long. The Pak-pao is flown only by one man. It relies on speed and manoeuvrability in the fighting game. Its weapon is a loop of cord designed to slip over the Chula's head to make the bigger kite uncontrollable.

In their search for a proper ground for their sport, kite enthusiasts were constantly forced to move from one place to another. In Bangkok the contests would take place immediately north of the Royal Grand Palace on the Phramain Ground. This spacious lawn is divided in two halves by the kite flying committee, the male kites taking the southern half and therefore the head wind, while the female kites, being the weaker sex, are given the other half or the tail wind. Each team must try to catch its opponent and bring it down in its own camp.

The Phramain Ground kite flyers are semi-professional teams, usually sponsored by some business firms. The kite flyers also bet on the kite fighting, and sometimes money running up to five figures can change hands with a season.

In 1906, rules and regulations regarding kite competition were standardized. Kites in the annual competition had to comply with these rules. The regulations include the prohibition of any metal weight on the body of the kite or the wrapping of the kite with wires.

At the beginning of the game, a number of Pak-pao will be flown waiting for the Chula to come down and fight. Now a group of Chula will enter Pak-pao's territory, each Chula trying to get a Pak-pao and bring it back to its own territory. At the same time the Pak-pao will try to make the Chula fall on Pak-pao's ground. The result of the game is decided by the boundary line, and the winner is the one that succeeds in putting its opponent under difficulties and bringing it to its own territory.

Modern Thai kites are not like the ancient ones, which were made with leaves carefully sewn together. Later they were often made of white paper while today brightly coloured glazed paper, glued onto a light bamboo frame is used. These kites are not found for sale. They are only built by sportsmen who wish to partake in the annual competitions. Their marking is highly technical and complex. Special species of second or third growth bamboo must be used for the framework and even before this material can be used it must be well seasoned. The builders pay precise attention to all details for the kite must be able to do what the flyer wants it to.

Though all kite makers use the same basic material, bamboo for the backbone and the wing frames, transparent paper for the body and other tinselled paper for foliated ornaments, each has his trade secret as to the calculation of weight and balance. To be a good kite maker, one should have good judgement of balance and choice of colour in order to make the kite beautiful.

To the kite makers, producing the traditional and modern styles is a test of their skill and imagination.


Takraw is a ball made from woven wicker and a game of the same name. The idea behind the game of takraw is to keep the ball in motion and off the ground while passing it from player to player. The most basic way the game is played is to have a number of people stand in a circle and they can hit the ball with any part of the body - instep, heel, knee, shoulder or forearm. Touching the ball with the hands is forbidden. Takraw has been played in Thailand for over a hundred years.

The origin of the game of takraw is obscure. Some maintain that it is in fact a Burmese game. This could be possible because in the old days Thailand and Burma were in close contact with each other, especially in matters of trade, interrupted only by occasional wars. It is not certain whether takraw is a Thai or a Burmese game, since it is played exactly the same way in both countries. Some even say that takraw traces its origins to a regal show-off in the 14th century. Four Malay rulers once strolled out of the Malacca throne hall to a space within the palace walls and proceeded to engage in some fancy footwork that sent the rattan ball bobbing in space for hours on end. The star of the show was the Raja of the Moluccas Isles, who held his audience spellbound by sending the ball skyward with foot, heel, sole, instep, calf, thigh, knee and shoulder. He used every part of his body except his hands and didn't let the ball touch the ground until it had risen and fallen more than 200 times.

It seems more likely however, that the game played with such fervour in Thailand today had its roots in a Chinese game called T'ek K'au. This game of T'ek K'au is mentioned in a history of China called the Suey Tang and legend has it that a Chinese from Kwangtung took a game with this name to the United States (where it evidently did not catch on).

T'ek K'au means shuttlecock or feathered ball and various forms of feathered and/or leathered balls are used in Korea and southern Thailand today in games that very much resemble takraw. Malaysian takraw was played with a leather ball before the Malays switched to the lighter, flexible rattan ball that is used throughout Asia at the present time.

In the backyard of a clapboard village house, on a stretch beach, in a Buddhist monastery compound, in the parking lot of a shopping centre, on a ship's deck or train station, Thai youths shed working clothes for tee-shirts and shorts, and start kicking. Takraw is the most adaptable popular sport in Thailand. A village festival crowd breaks into circles as soon as the ceremonies permit, each circle of men giving the rattan ball a full aerial workout until someone's legs tire of the expertly aimed kicks, jabs and jumps. Comical dramatics and a show of muscle embellish the big games. A takraw superstar not only delights his ebullient sports fans as the young ladies of the village are watching, too.

The game of takraw is easy to play, but quite difficult to master. This game can be played on a small piece of ground, at one's own home, or in a backyard, for it takes as little space as 25 square metres which is enough for a really enjoyable game.

Early versions of takraw had teams of six to ten men competing to keep the ball off the ground for as long as they could. One team would give it a try and then another. Later a time limit was added and the number of occasions the ball hit the ground during that time was recorded. Today the team with the least number of 'groundings', or in the case of a tie the greatest number of kicks, will win.

Apart from using the sole, a player can also hit the ball with other parts of the foot, the leg, the arm (with the exception of the hand) or the head. The game as already described is the basic form of takraw. Later, players have devised new types of takraw games, but the original circle takraw is still the most popular. Even today circle takraw is enjoyed everywhere. Besides, the takraw game permits a number of imaginative ways of kicking. there are some who are fond of fancy kicks and practise kicking and balancing the ball until they can keep on parts of their body in a series of nine separate kicks. This kind of performance is not regarded as a game proper, but rather as a display of skills in fancy kicks, similar to the case of one doing tricks with a dish or plate.

About 75 years ago, good takraw players, i.e. players who could either keep the ball in the air for a long time or do fancy kicks, were invariably elderly people. Younger people simply watched the game because no one encouraged them to play the game themselves. Later, seeing that takraw is a traditional sport, which deserves support and encouragement, the Ministry of Education promoted the game among school children, encouraging them to play, as well as organizing contests for them. So the situation is now different and Thailand has many youngsters who are very good takraw players.

Later, in 1933, other games of takraw were devised, such as 'ring takraw', which is in fact 'circle takraw', plus a ring hung five metres above the ground. Scores are made by kicking the ball into the ring, and the points scored vary according to the degree of difficulty of the particular kick that sends the ball into the ring. The game lasts half an hour, then the scores are totalled.

Another variation of takraw has a basket suspended about six metres above the ground. This basket has three 'mouths' or openings. Each team has forty minutes to put the ball through the basket as many times as they can and as gracefully as they can. Points are given for style and difficulty of shot. Even the simplest strike off the side or toe of the foot can have a beauty of its own when a player displays his finesse with his entire body from that toe to the expression on his face.

Still another game of takraw involves a contest between two sides using a mixture of badminton and volleyball rules. The ball is kicked over a net, and scores are made similar to those in badminton. Most of the explosive action, the pyrotechnics of the game, belongs to the strikers or blockers playing along the net. 'Net Takraw' is popular throughout the Kingdom.

Takraw as played by the Thais is also enjoyed in Malaysia and the Philippines, but of course under different names such as Sepak Raga, Sepak Takraw, etc. The Filipinos found it similar to a game they call Sipa, which varies only slightly from Takraw. The Philippine version of takraw has two players in each team and the ball has to be headed twice. Sepak Takraw has been accepted in the SEAP Games.

Apart from SEAP countries, the game has some following in Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Kampuchea and Vietnam.

Modern Sports

Sports, the development of which is attendant on economic stability, educational progress and public interest, have been steadily developed in Thailand. In modern sports, Thailand has been progressing at an amazing speed. The progress was especially spectacular after the Asian Games of 1958 in Tokyo.

In general, Thai sportsmen are winning world recognition as an up-and-coming force.

Thailand, however does not stress the promotion of competitive sport as much as general physical education. This policy is based on the belief that only through improvement in the physique of the people at large can sports be made an instrument serving useful purposes. Therefore, the Thai have little use for professionalism, but uphold amateurism for all kinds of sports. Meanwhile, sportsmanship is emphasized, and the idea of victory for victory's sake is discouraged, because the Thai maintains sports are to build up well-rounded men, not undisciplined, unprincipled muscles.

A cursory survey of sports activities in Thailand in the past 80 years or so shows that progress has been achieved. New national records have been established. New blood has come to the fore. Public interest in all fields of physical exertion has steadily increased. Through sports, people from different sectors of society will be able to mingle with one another and thus understand better the traditional way of life of other races. It was of utmost importance to sustain the spirit of goodwill, which could contribute to the success of the Government's development efforts.

The Asian Games in Bangkok, December 1978, opened a new chapter for the youth of this country. It showed Thailand has the potential and material to not only produce Asia's best but also to create a happy, healthy atmosphere for Thailand's youngsters. The future of sport in Thailand is full of promise.


The newest of competitive sports, Thailand's men and women archers participated in an international event since the Archery Association was formed a few years ago in the 9th Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur with modest success. It is reasonable to assume that within a short period after this event, Thai archers, with more competition, will be ready to face a far stronger challenge from the Asian giants in the same field and even match them for performance.


Athletics occupied a back seat in most international sporting arenas during the turn of the nineteenth century. Competition in the events, which are called athletics in some parts of the world or track and field events in others, was introduced into Thailand in 1898 as part of the grand festivity welcoming back His Majesty King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) from his second European tour. For the occasion, the Ministry of Education organized various athletic events for competition among boys and girls. Later, it was held annually: races of various distances, high jump, long jump and cricket. Included were also children's games: three-legged race, sack-race, objects-gathering race, flag-race and tug-of-war. In the course of time, all the miscellaneous petty events were discontinued, and only international athletic events have now remained.

In Bangkok, athletic events have been organized for students regularly every year. In all other provinces, too, inter-school athletic competitions are extremely popular among the students, for many can participate and results are known quickly.

Since 1898 student athletic contests have been organized annually and have passed through many phases of development. But it was not until 1936 that athletic events were initiated for the general public, both male and female. Then in 1943, intercollegiate athletic competitions were inaugurated and in 1956 a series of inter-service competitions among the Royal Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police Force were introduced. All these events have continued yearly right to the present day.

In 1948 a group of interested persons formed an association known as the Amateur Athletic Association of Thailand to promote and control athletic competitions in Thailand along the lines of the International Amateur Athletic Federation. After being admitted into the International Federation in 1950, the AAAT has engaged in a wide range of activities especially in organizing international competitions.

The recent Asian Games showed that Thailand's athletes were really a force to be reckoning with, and the collection of golds, silvers and bronzes proved that, given all the chances and opportunities, Thailand, as a sporting nation, was next to none.


Badminton was introduced into Thailand some 80 years ago, presumably by the British. The game was played on outdoor courts, where accuracy of any kind was out of the question because of the wind. The game was popular among the higher middle class who could afford to pay for the expensive shuttlecocks and imported rackets. Singles and doubles games were hardly played at that time on account of the limitation of time and the small number of courts as compared with the number of players.

In the year 1950 the Badminton Association of Thailand was founded and was affiliated to the International Badminton Federation in 1951. Henceforth, concentration was made on the game of singles and doubles. Indoor courts were built where players could practise day and night. Shuttlecocks and rackets were made in Thailand and even exported. The game eventually became popular among people of all classes. Thailand has been competing internationally since 1951 and always takes part in the Thomas Cup competition. There has been considerable activity in several badminton clubs all over Thailand, which has enabled more members to indulge in their favourite sport.


The game of basketball was introduced into Thailand some 60 years ago. In the beginning, it was played in a few schools only. The general public began to play basketball about the same time as the schools adopted it, but simply for amusement and leisure-time exercise. Afterwards, teams were formed up for competition and the game spread to some provincial towns. In 1953, the idea eventually brought about the formation of an association called the Amateur Basketball Association of Thailand, which duly carried on its work and came under royal patronage in 1957. Thai basketball teams have competed in the Olympic as well as the Asian and SEAP Games.


There are few countries, particularly in Asia, where bowling has enjoyed such a rapid rise to popularity and continued success as in Thailand. Success means money for those who invested - especially in the early stages. For the players themselves, who do most of the paying out, this same success is reflected in pleasurable sport and a large measure of international recognition for Thai expertise in bowling.

Bowling seems to be a pastime appealing to all classes and age groups. The backbone of the industry remains the mid and upper income groups, especially business and professional people still in their twenties and thirties. Such people have the money to play often, and they have enough experience to be skilful players.

The men behind the bowling ventures are clearly progressive-minded, introducing innovation after innovation intended to lure customers - and hold them.

What has been behind the boomlet in the bowling business? Many factors have to be listed down: the shift of venues out of town, provision of extra non-bowling facilities. In short, additional investments and sophistication.

Additionally, there has been growing sportsmindedness among industrial firms and business houses and awareness that bowling provides one convenient outlet for exercise and relaxation of their employees and workers. Tournament bowling has become a popular year-round programme of different companies, a 'must' on the list of sports activities. It has come to the point where even the old bowling lanes get some business because the new and more modern ones cannot handle all the bookings being made on behalf of this or that inter-company or inter-industry or even open championship games.

At the start of the '80's however some young businessmen with investments in bowling alleys started to move out of town. The belief, then, which has since turned out to be right, was that bowling would attract the well-to-do, given a good location plus improved facilities. So, while bowling alleys in busy downtown areas continue to loose patronage and business, the shift to out-of-town started in earnest.

For bowling, Thailand is already in the big international league. In terms of numbers of lanes, this country ranks eighth in the whole world, behind only the U.S.A., Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Italy and Mexico. In Southeast Asia, Thailand is the strongest country by far in the bowling league. Thailand has gained more titles than any other country in the Asian championships.

Meanwhile as Thai bowlers become increasingly serious, and what used to be just a leisure activity becomes something of a national pastime, there are plans to open up still more centres. Profitability investment-wise may be getting lower, but the Thai public sustains interest in the sport.

Boxing (Amateur)

Thai boxing or Muay Thai has been in existence in Thailand for many hundreds of years. It has also been included as a subject in military training.

On the other hand, international style boxing, or boxing under the Queensbury rules, was introduced into Thailand between 1920-1930. At that time boxing was only practised only in schools, and competitions were organized by the Ministry of Education regularly every year. Gradually, however, it began to spread outside the schools through boxers who had left school and wished to carry on with the sport. Some went on boxing as professional boxers and others took up teaching to perpetuate the sport.

Amateur boxing slowly spread in Thailand under the control of the Department of Physical Education. As a result of Thailand's National Olympic Committee in 1950, it was felt that if Thailand were to participate in this sport with other countries in events such as the Olympic Games or the Asian Games, a national boxing association should be formed and affiliated to the International Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), otherwise it would not be eligible to send boxers to participate.

Thus, preliminary work to this end was started and the Amateur Boxing Association of Thailand (ABAT) was formed. Affiliation to the IABA came soon after.

Boxing (Professional)

Professional boxing, especially Thai-style boxing (kick boxing or Muay Thai), has been known in Thailand for centuries. Written records reveal that Thai boxers collected money as a reward for their superior skills. Sometimes it became a winner-takes-all affair. Even the spectators enjoyed themselves by putting bets on their favourites.

Prize-fighting, both Thai and western styles, became big-time business when the Rajdamnern Stadium was first built in Bangkok solely for this purpose a few decades ago. It sharply increased keen interest in the sport among the public. Later on the Lumpini Boxing Stadium was added to Bangkok and good fighters from all regions of the country came to the capital to try their luck. New training camps sprung up in many places and talented young boxers were discovered and carefully groomed in them. Many Thai boxers are now ranked highly both in the oriental and world boxing circles.


Cricket is a very minority sport in Thailand. The game however continues to flourish at both the club as well as regional level in the country.

The Royal Bangkok Sports Club is the repository of the game. But apart from the RBSC's activities in the game, there is also the Thailand Cricket League, which sees teams other than only the RBSC pitting their skills against each other.


Cycle races were introduced as part of the New Year celebrations and the Water Festival. In 1959 the first SEAP Games were held in Bangkok with Thailand as the host country. As far as the practice of international sports competition is concerned, teams must be entered by the appropriate national amateur sports associations. This is why a group of cycling enthusiasts formed the Amateur Cycling Association of Thailand, which was registered on December 18th, 1959.

For the fourth year in succession, the Tour of Thailand race continued to attract the attention of cyclists both in Thailand and the region, and it is very likely that more international competitors will be taking part in the event in future. The sport has been one in which Thai pedallers have gained more than ordinary recognition in recent years.


There's no doubt that the modern game of football, followed so fanatically by millions of people all over the world, was born in England, said a speaker on the BBC External Services. For it was in Britain, towards the end of the nineteenth century, that the rules and regulations of the game were drawn up. Some form of football existed long before that, of course, in Britain and in other countries.

The game developed from the free-for-all mêlées in ancient and medieval Britain. Every Shrove Tuesday, in the Roman town of Chester, there was a kind of annual scrimmage, and tradition has it that the first ball was the head of a Danish Brigand. Up in Scotland the little town of Midlothian had an annual match between the spinsters and the married women.

Some kings banned the game because they feared that archery, and consequently their own military prowess, would suffer. One monarch found that his army wanted to play football with the enemy rather than fight them.

Other lands had their own versions of football. Ancient savage tribes played football of a primitive kind. There was a ball kicking game played by Athenians, Spartans and Corinthians 2,500 years ago and the Greeks had a name for it: Episkuros. The Romans had a somewhat similar game called Harpastum or snatchball, and are supposed to have carried the game with them when they invaded the British Isles in the 1st century B.C. In China, three or four centuries before the birth of Christ, there was a game known as Tsu-Chu (to kick the ball). Japan had a more ceremonial type of game called Kemari.

On the syllabus of most schools as an alternative to basketball, international football is popular in Thailand and the country has played at the Olympic, Asian and SEAP Games.


It may be that golf originated in Holland, historians believe it did, but certainly Scotland fostered the game and is famous for it. In 1457 the Scottish parliament, disturbed because football and golf had lured young Scots from the more soldierly exercise of archery, passed an ordinance that 'futeball and golf be utterly cryit doun and nocht usit'. Kings James I and Charles I of the royal line of Stuarts were golf enthusiasts, whereby the game came to be known as 'the royal and ancient game of golf'.

Golf balls used in the early games were leather covered and stuffed with feathers. Clubs of all kinds were fashioned by hand to suit individual players. The great step in spreading the game came with the change from the feather ball to the gutta-percha ball in about 1850, and in 1860 formal competition began with the establishment of an annual tournament for the British open championship.

Golf is both fun and profitable for businessmen. No one keeps record of how many millions of Baht worth of business was done on the golf links, but considering its increasing popularity and the time executives spend in playing golf, the amount is staggering.

Golf was first introduced into Thailand in the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) by certain Englishmen who played it among themselves. In the course of time, the Thais joined in, but as it was enjoyed as a sort of social function, popularity was limited.

Later the Europeans who had come to settle in Thailand requested the King's permission to found a sports club, known as the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. Apart from horse racing, the club organized golf for its members. Meanwhile, the game was gradually gaining more popularity and enthusiasm. King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) commanded the establishment of a golf course at Dusit Gardens, and King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) who was a golf enthusiast and played it regularly, encouraged the idea of setting up a golf course at Hua Hin.

In Thailand the opportunities for golf abound. There are estimated to more than 30,000 golfers in Thailand. Half of them play a round or two at least once a month, a quarter play a little less. The rest comprise the 'active' players who make it a point to get out on the green at least once or twice a week. There are 36 golf courses all over the country of which 12 are in Bangkok. Thai golfers have from time to time competed in neighbouring countries, and likewise, golfers from neighbouring countries have come to Thailand to compete.

Tournaments in Thailand are blossoming and the prizes becoming more intriguing. There are competitions for professional and amateurs, men and women, youngsters and collegians. Though the sport is popular, it is mostly played by adults.

While the sport is taken up, most often, for relaxation, it also provides a forum for salesmen to develop contacts for future sales, politicos to extend diplomatic courtesies, bankers to talk about floating loans, and doctors to gain prestige in being called away.

In Thailand today any businessman worth his expense account owns a set of golf clubs and has the use of a membership at one of the countries many clubs. Skill on the course has become a valuable executive asset. Some companies ask prospective employees their golf handicap. Naturally, along with Thailand's golf boom, the manufacture of the sport's equipment is also on the upswing. While imported clubs of advertised brands, with endorsements by star foreign players, still have significant prestige value.

In 1979 there was forty-three Thailand Golf Association member clubs around the country. Thailand, blessed with a plenitude of land, has the natural golf assets that can make this sport one of the most lucrative. Golf has become such a vital part of Thai life that a businessman no longer has to call his office from the clubhouse and try to explain his absence by saying he is detained by his doctor.


Gymnastics was first introduced into Chula-Chomklao Military Academy by foreign-trained instructors. Afterwards, appreciating the value of this kind of gymnastics, the Ministry of Education instructed the various schools to teach one posture and movement after another, and these instructions remain in practice today.


Although hockey is so widely played perhaps less is known of its origins than any other major sport.

Hockey began to be played in modern form rather less than 100 years ago. But some rather similar game was played nearly 3,000 years ago in Persia. From there it spread to Greece and Rome, and a carved relief on the Acropolis shows six young men clashing their bent sticks. Possibly from this game originated hurling a hockey-like game played by the Celts with bent sticks and a ball. And so, perhaps, across the English Channel into Britain.

Today hockey may well be played by more people in Britain than any other game, since it attracts both men and women. Yet all players are amateurs and it has never attracted the massed spectators of a soccer match. The picture is very different in the rest of the world, in Spain or Africa or Australia, and above all in the Indian sub-continent. There, hockey was introduced by the British Army on the hard-baked mud surfaces of the parade grounds, and it spread like wildfire, to become the principal national game. For the past 70 years, in fact, the Indians have dominated the tournament at the Olympic Games. But since 1960 the world champions have been from Pakistan rather than India and they were also reared on the same hard surfaces and in the same tradition. In the last fifteen to thirty years there has been a determined challenge to the Indian-Pakistani hegemony, above all from Holland and Germany, where hockey is treated seriously.

In Thailand there is no reliable record as to when hockey was introduced. It appears however that Europeans have been enjoying this game for a long time at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. In addition, certain groups of Indians living in Thailand have organized occasional matches and have sometimes played against the Royal Bangkok Sports Club team.

Horse Racing

In the year 1890 an Englishman named Franklin Hurst made a formal application to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for approval to construct a race course and a sportsfield in Bangkok. The request was readily granted but the project was not implemented until several years later.

It was in 1900 that racing enthusiasts then presented a petition that asked for the establishment of a race course as well as facilities for other sports such as golf, gymkhanas, cricket, football, shooting etc. In the year 1901 the King granted permission to set up the Bangkok Sports Club under Royal Charter.

In as much as the establishment of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club was made possible by King Chulalongkorn, so the founding of the Royal Turf Club of Thailand was chiefly due to the generous support and assistance of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). Both the Royal Turf Club and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club kept the sport going by alternating race meetings every month except during the rainy season. Horse breeding began to keep pace with racing as a sport, thus creating a completely new climate for the industry. Foreign stallions, chiefly Arab, were imported into Thailand, The 1930's saw the progeny of Arab stallions distributed throughout the length and breadth of the country - a material factor that led to the present-day improvement in Thai-bred ponies. Today, there is an average of more than 70 racing days a year at the Royal Turf Club, brought about by the three-month recess at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club between August and October. With some 26 or more meetings annually the Royal Turf Club quite naturally handles a far larger turnover than its elder brother.

Although both racing clubs are independent entities with an autonomy all their own, they have formed a joint committee to better administer turf matters that require a great measure of standardization and agreement.


About 95 years ago, there were many Japanese merchant businessmen living in Thailand. In their spare time these Japanese people organized and enjoyed their favourite sport of judo and apart from their own fellow countrymen they also invited their Thai friends to join in the game. It may be said therefore that judo has been practised in Thailand since 1907.

The game of judo has steadily flourished in Thailand. Judo teams have occasionally been sent to compete in Japan. The Ministry of Education initiated judo contests for students in 1927 and since that time inter-school competitions have been held annually, Later in 1955 a judo association was formed called the Judo Association of Thailand, which has duly performed its functions especially in recruiting more and more pupils of both sexes.


These last 80 years are the period during which more and more women emerge side by side with men in social circles. The game of netball has flourished slowly, but nevertheless, it has found its way into every province of the Kingdom. Even though in recent years women have taken part in other sports such as athletics, badminton, basketball and swimming, netball still retains its former status among students and among undergraduates of certain universities.

Riding and Polo

Polo originated 'somewhere east of Suez' but exactly where has never been determined. There is pictorial proof that it was played many centuries ago in Persia, Japan, China and Tibet, but it reached England by way of a border tribe in India known as Manipuri. British army officers in India, about 1860, found the Manipuri playing polo and learned the game from them. The fact that the Manipuri used small native horses, they had no other, was the reason for the early height limit (14 hands) with no polo mounts, from which arose the custom of calling them 'polo ponies', which was abandoned in 1919.

In 1869 some officers of the 10th Hussars, returning from India, introduced the game in England and informal games were played with as many as eight players on a side. Formal competition at Hurlingham, the great shrine of the game, began in 1876 with five players on a side, which number was cut to four in 1882. In 1884 an outstanding English player by the name of John Watson invented the backhand stroke and much improved the tactics of the game.

Riding and polo were introduced into Thailand in the reign of King Variravudh by those who were good horsemen and took up riding as a form of exercise. These people founded a riding and polo club.

On free days, the club members would come and spend some time riding and playing polo. The game of polo has been seriously practised and played in Thailand since. Matches have been organized both in the country and abroad. The standard of polo playing in Thailand is fairly high, but because this kind of sport involves very heavy expenses it is somewhat limited to the very few who can afford it. Thai polo teams have competed internationally.

Rugby Football

In Thailand the game of rugby football was first played about 95 years ago. There were no clubs at that time and the game was played on the Phramin Ground, (front of the old palace [Wat Phra Keow], Bangkok), where many important events took place including kite flying and royal cremations. Later on the game took root at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, where there were many British and European players.

Since about 1917 there was a step forward in rugby when Thai students who had played at school while in Great Britain joined the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on their return and played against visiting teams.

In 1937, a Thai Rugby Union was formed to organize competitions among the Thais and to promote rugby football in Thailand. With the advent of the Second World War, the union ceased to function and the Director-General of the Physical Education Department, on the request of rugby enthusiasts, took rugby under his wings.

At the end of the WWII hostilities the Thai Rugby Union was quickly revived and matches were again organized. From then on the game gained widespread popularity and by the end of 1950 there were twenty-six teams taking part in the various competitions organized by the Thai Rugby Union.

In 1963 there were 33 teams taking part in various classes of competition organized by the Thai Rugby Union. Thai rugby teams have competed all over the world with notable success. Most large schools have their own teams as do the Armed Services and Universities, clubs etc. A leading sportsman once said that Thailand could easily be the headquarters of Asian rugby, because we have the facilities, the venues and the machinery to promote rugger across the continent. Already many countries have promised support in this direction and Thailand is confident it will be able to give rugby its old glory.

Scuba Diving

Diving in this country is a relatively new phenomenon. On August 13, 1964 the first meeting of the Thailand Sub Aqua Club (TSAC) was held. The aim of the club was to popularize skin diving, and to organize spear fishing and underwater photographic contests. To coordinate the activities of the club four sub-committees were formed: spear fishing, 'goggling', SCUBA diving, and underwater photography. Serious spear fishing, which had been the main incentive to get the TSAC started, eventually lapsed in popularity, and SCUBA diving became the major activity.

As an indication of the growing popularity of SCUBA diving among the Thais, the Siam Diving Club was started on October 18, 1977. The club is interested in protecting the ecology of the sea bordering Thailand, and in teaching their members about the flora and fauna that is to be found in these waters. Besides, SCUBA diving is fun. It has to be fun or who would cope with the logistical problem of getting bodies, baggage, and boats to converge at the same time and at the same place. Nevertheless, fortunate indeed are those who have discovered this remarkable sport. And what better place to practise it than off the Kingdom's 2700 kilometre shoreline and numerous islands.

The waters of the coast of Thailand offer diving enthusiasts some of the most beautiful underwater sights in the world.


Shooting is a sport, which has become popular only in recent years. It is true that the Thais have long known how to use pistols and rifles and have organized occasional shooting contests. These contests were introduced as part of festivals and fairs, and simply for amusement. No thoughts were given to the question of the types of pistols or rifles used, the distance and the kind of targets to be adopted. According to practice, so long as the weapons, the distances and the targets were all of the same type, the contests were fairly organized. The shooters, in fact, not only had some fun out of the contest, but gained considerable pride if and when they hit the targets. The onlookers too had a lot of excitement by just watching. In the course of time those shooting enthusiasts, who were of the opinion that contests should be organized along international lines, founded a shooting association in 1959. In the following year the Association was able to send a team to take part in the Seventeenth Olympic Games. The Association is confident that, with constant and painstaking practice, it will be able to produce in the future marksmen as good as those of any nation. Its efforts are now beginning to pay off, as Thailand has won many gold medals in international shooting events.

Skin Diving

Skin diving has become a popular pastime among the Thais and visitors to Thailand. The Thailand Sub-Aqua Club, founded in 1956, has done much to promote this sport. They always welcome new members and arrange weekly expeditions to new islands. One cheering point is that Thailand's waters are very safe and accidents are rare - at least from shark or barracuda. The only dangers are sudden summer storms or the occasional dangerous current. However swimming and skin diving with a club will obviate such dangers.

Squash Racquets

The Squash Racquets Association of Thailand was formed in mid 1977. With Thailand participating in the Far East Squash Racquets Championships, the association is striving to keep its players fit throughout the year.


Swimming is a sport, which does a certain amount of good to every part of the body, and as such suits people of all ages and of either sex. As a matter of fact, Thailand is one of the countries, which have long favoured swimming, though of course the techniques were formerly not the same as today. There were then no swimming pools and people had to swim in rivers or canals. On November 8th, 1958, the Swimming Association of Thailand was set up with the aims to promote swimming as a sport and water games, and also to organize races on the national as well as international levels. The Association has applied for and been accorded membership of the International Swimming Federation.

There is an Olympic swimming pool at the National Stadium in Bangkok. The Thais are natural swimmers and what the country needs today are more swimming pools and a Thailand Committee has promised to put the sport on a much firmer footing than it has had in the past. It can therefore be expected that in Thailand swimming as a sport will rise up to international standards in the very near future.

Table Tennis

Bashing a white celluloid ball may not be everyone's cup of tea as a form of exercise, but it is a game, which is as interesting as it is exciting. There is speed, accuracy and perfect timing - and of course, the ability to run quickly, especially in the doubles and mixed doubles. Table tennis does produce a lot of sweat, as could be seen in any of the SEAP Games thrilling matches.

Table tennis has long been a popular game in Thailand, especially among children. It is widely played simply because it is suitable for people irrespective of their age or sex and is thoroughly enjoyable.

Early in 1957 The Table Tennis Association was founded and championship matches were organized for the first time in 1958. Since then the game of table tennis has spread into the various provinces. When The Table Tennis Association of Thailand was considerably well established, it applied for International Table Tennis Federation, which was granted in 1959. Then, in 1960, the Association became a member of the Federation of Table Tennis Association of Asia. Certain provinces in Thailand are now organizing table tennis tournaments in which government departments, commercial firms, youth organizations, clubs and secondary schools are invited to take part. Thailand has competed internationally in the game with some success.


Lawn tennis is a comparatively modern modification of the ancient game of court tennis. Alex Hamburger, a former Wimbledon and Romanian Davis Cup player once mentioned in a BBC sports programme that the ancestor of tennis seems to be a ball-game called 'La Paume', which is still played in the Picardy area of France. 'La Paume' means the palm of the hand, and in this game the ball was hit across the net with the palm of the hand. The scoring of points at 15, 30 and 40 goes back many centuries and is explained as follows. When the server won a point he was entitled to move nearer the net by 15 feet; then another 15 feet after the next point; and yet another 15 feet after the third point. This totals 45 feet, but as this brought the players too close to the net they were moved back by five feet: hence 15, 30 and 40.

As the game apparently originated in France, it is not surprising that many of the terms used today are derived from French words. The term 'love' comes from 'l'oeuf', an egg, which has the shape of nought or zero. 'Deuce' comes from the French 'deux', when both players have 40 points, 'quarante-a-deux'.

The first alteration to 'La Paume' was gloves on the player's hands; hence comes the game of Fives, still played in many English public schools. The next development was the really crucial one of holding a racquet and hitting the ball with it. Since 'to hold' is 'tenir' in French the term 'tennis' came about.

Almost 100 years ago the game of lawn tennis was brought into Thailand through two channels. The first was English merchants who were carrying on business here and who were avowed tennis players. The other channel was Thai graduates of English schools who liked playing tennis as a form of exercise. In 1926 an association was formed and named the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand.

Towards the end of 1927 the Association organized an All Thailand Championship match for the first time and has been organizing matches in Bangkok ever since. It was not until 1951 that regional matches were added. There are now four regions: Central, Southern, North-Eastern and Eastern. They all have regular championship matches.

Tennis is no more a ball and racquet game. There is far more attached to it today. Players are more interested about the courts on which they play, the equipment they use and the modern facilities, which are offered.

In Bangkok, with so many tennis clubs and complexes being constructed over the past years, the question everybody is asking is: 'Where could modern tennis equipment be purchased?'

It is unknown exactly how many tennis players and courts exist in the Kingdom, but current estimates are 25,000 players and more than 1,000 courts. Tennis is a booming sport in Thailand and from Bangkok it has spread out to the provinces.

The Thais are not brilliant tennis players and recently there has been an effort to train young new players. It is hoped that the new generation of tennis players will be able to play their way to the top.


Wrestling is relatively unknown in Thailand, although it has long been practised in the Western World and in the Middle East. Japan was quite successful in this sport during the Eighteenth Olympic Games and it was at the insistence of Japan that wrestling was included in the Fifth Asian Games for the first time. In 1966 the Thai Amateur Wrestling Association came into existence and it now working hard to popularize it.


The geography of Thailand is such that she has long stretches of coastline in the South, from the Gulf of Thailand right down to Malaysia, and in the East her coastline joins with that of Cambodia. The people living along these coastlines are mainly fishermen. Before motor boats were introduced, these people used sailing boats. Such vessels are still in use today on account of the economical aspect of saving fuel. These fishermen could be said to be experts at sailing, their goal is to catch fish and return with it to shore. Speed has never been a major consideration in their boats nor did they think of sailing as a sport.

Some navy men sailed for sport in their spare time. At the sixteenth Olympic Games held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1952, yachting events were introduced for the first time. On that occasion Thailand was represented in the star class event. Thailand has entered a yachting team ever since.

During the past few years considerable improvements have been made at the sea-side resorts along the east coast. These resorts cater for casual holiday-makers as well as permanent residents. Yachting enthusiasts have thus increased in numbers. There are now quite a number of yachting clubs and it can be expected that yachting will become more popular than ever.

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