A country in mourning is about to start keeping score again

After the passing of Thailand’s beloved King, sporting competition is set to resume after a one-month absence and much confusion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 8:38pm

There are no grey areas in Thailand right now. Everything is literally black and white.

One month ago the beloved King of Thailand passed, and while there is an air of uncertainty over the future of the country minus its moral and spiritual compass, there was very little uncertainty about what would follow in the immediate aftermath.

An official period of national mourning for one-month, which ends on Monday, was announced and everyone was asked to dress in sombre tones. Unified by clothing colour, if not by class, an entire country was now wearing black and white which naturally precipitated a run on black clothing for retailers who could hardly keep up to demand.

As the month went on, some incurably stylish Thais began sporting black and white outfits that would be the envy of the catwalks in Paris and Milan. But by and large, it was an amazingly and respectfully muted country.

The sounds of silence also echoed through Bangkok’s vibrant nightlife. People were still coming out, they were just more restrained while most bars and clubs vigilantly closed before midnight.

Many commented on how palatable and pleasant the capital city had become now that the volume had been drastically reduced, and it was true to a point. Certainly no one was heard complaining that the cacophonous and intrusive adverts on video screens throughout the city and on public transit had been replaced by subdued and non-stop homage reels to the King.

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For a country in official mourning, there are basic rules and foremost among those were restrictions placed on the nine categories of public festivities including “sports at all levels and cheerleading.”

It’s sacrilege, and illegal as well, to compare any game to the popularity of the King, but if there is one sport that clearly rises above all others in this country it would be football.

They are absolutely crazy for the game, and much like the majority of Hong Kongers who are, or were, Manchester United fans, Thais are still uniformly Liverpool backer’s despite local ownership of current English Premier League holders Leicester City.

Every Saturday or Sunday during the season there are legions of boisterous Liverpool fans crowding the country’s pubs to watch the beloved. But while their Merseyside heroes are finally giving them ample reason to cheer this year by sitting at the top of the table, the bright red kit and deafening cheers have been replaced by straight black gear and muted applause.

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However, at least Liverpool is still playing on the TV screens in Thailand. Almost immediately after the Kings passing, the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) announced that all remaining matches are cancelled including the final three fixtures in the country’s top league, meaning the standings are now final.

The League Cup was also cancelled and the two teams in the final were declared joint champions and would share prize money equally.

When a few clubs protested, the FAT called an emergency meeting to review their decision and, not surprisingly, 17 of 18 teams voted to uphold things. Apparently, there was a great deal of pressure behind the scenes for clubs to fall in line.

What was truly surprising however is that one team, the Chonburi Sharks, voted to continue the competition because, according to their media director, “The government spokesman had clearly stated that the scheduled football matches can continue during the mourning period.”

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And then emotion overtook logic when the head of a team that voted in favour of ending the season vehemently protested that it was completely unfair because his bottom dwelling club would now be demoted despite being only a point away from relegation. In essence, it’s very unfair that we have to vote to penalise ourselves.

However, there are lapses in logic virtually everywhere in the world right now, not just Thailand where it also may have seemed somewhat unfair and disrespectful to the FAT that their national team’s upcoming World Cup qualifying game against Australia on November 15th in Bangkok could not be moved or rescheduled.

Come Tuesday, it will now unofficially be the first large public sporting event since the official mourning period ended one day earlier. The Socceroos have become something of a powerhouse since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, while Thailand are still looking for their first point after losing to Saudi Arabia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.

While the outcome should not be in doubt, the president of the FAT still promised the team a US$285,000 reward if they win before quickly adding, “I don’t want them to play for money. I want them to play for His Majesty the King.”