SportAccord 2018: Thai sports minister on growing the country’s sporting profile

With SportAccord 2018 underway, SportsPro sat down for a brief chat with Weerasak Kowsurat, Thailand’s minister for tourism and sports, to find out what hosting the event means for the country, and the government's plans to capitalise on Asia’s sporting moment.

SportAccord 2018: Thai sports minister on growing the country’s sporting profile

SportAccord 2018, the annual gathering of international federations and other key decision-makers from across the global business of sport, is being held in Bangkok, Thailand all this week.

The six-day event will see a customarily packed schedule of high-level meetings, plenary discussions and networking sessions take place in and around the Centara Grand and Bangkok Convention Centre, as the sporting world descends on the Thai capital under the auspices of SportAccord for the first time.

As day one’s proceedings began with council meetings for senior members of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and their winter counterparts, the AIOWF, SportsPro sat down for a brief chat with Weerasak Kowsurat, Thailand’s minister for tourism and sports, to find out what hosting the latest edition of SportAccord means for the country, and how the Thai government is working to position Thailand at the forefront of Asia’s sporting moment.

SportsPro: What has been the appeal for Thailand of staging SportAccord 2018?

WK: To host an event like this, not only do we benefit from having a nice activity happening in town, but also it’s bringing sport’s big boys to see the country for themselves and see the people. It is always the people of countries who are more attractive than anything else. With firsthand experience, seeing not only facilities but the people - going outside into the city - [the attendees] see for themselves why we are more visited by international visitors each year and we have been successfully hosting not only normal events but also sporting events in Thailand - from north to south, from east to west.

It is the harmonisation of people who are living here with the international world that we have received all kinds of new incoming activity. So being a part, and being the host, of this international sporting event is not about competition - it is about coordination because everyone is flying in from different parts of the world to be here to discuss and to cooperate.

This will help the visitors in SportAccord to have full confidence of who we are from this part of the world - that’s one thing. And the other thing is we give opportunities for the local sporting administrators - like clubs, like the associations of all kinds of sports - to get a chance to be part of the hosting, to get the president of sports federations acquainted and also get our people to learn from those international big boys of how they run their world.

So it’s going to be uplifting for us and make us feel part of the standard that we want to do. It’s one thing that we, in the country, get to discuss about internationalisation and standardisation to our people, but it’s another when they get to listen to the man in the field talking about how they came about. So this is really beneficial, and money can’t buy this. You can’t just spend money and get all of these 1,500 big boys to come into the city at the same time, unless SportAccord is in town.

You can’t just spend money and get all of these 1,500 big boys to come into the city at the same time, unless SportAccord is in town.

With PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022, we are in the midst of a run of three Olympic Games in Asia. Is this the region’s time to rise up and be counted on the global sporting stage by hosting these kinds of international sporting events?

I would assume so. One part of the reason is the majority of the world’s population is here in this part of the world and the growth of economic performance in this part of the world is working quite well. And the third is, it’s time to have the full linkage of people because sports bring people, bring better understanding, bring peace. And that would be the most valuable that sports can do.

Instead of looking at how many millions of people are attending or watching on television - that is one part of the economic reason - but the majority effect that sports can leave in any place in the world is that they bring a new focus to people enjoying seeing the ability of humanity who can make it to the top. That means a lot of training has to be done, a lot of mind setting has to be delivered, and the cheering part is also that people feel.

The fact that you make it up - you want to put the ball through the goal, or the first man who runs across a point - and make people cheer. Then you can see that happiness can happen. It becomes so powerful. Let’s enjoy working together, let’s enjoy moving together, and we can bring peace and deliver a message that you can’t do in a usual scenario.

The PyeongChang [Games] in Korea have shown that it is a major step, a turning point, of the next peace talks among people who, in their own normal activities, it would never happen. And in front of billions of eyeballs watching. Everybody wants to be heroes, and sports creates heroes every single second, not only when they pass the finish line. It’s already started when he or she decides to enter into sports.

You’ve mentioned the social aspects of sport - its ability to bring about peace and foster communication among different sides, different countries - but what is the Thai government doing to bring more major sporting events here, to ultimately drive tourism in the country and raise the profile and standard of Thai sport commercially?

We’re are doing quite a few things. From this year we are hosting MotoGP - it’s coming to Thailand for three consecutive years. Also at the end of this year we are going to host our second Tour de France cycling event down in Phang Nga Bay, close to the shore. We have, for many years, been hosting quite a few regattas in the Gulf of Thailand and also the Andaman Sea down south, and we just hosted the Thailand Amazing Marathon, running across the whole city of Bangkok for the first time. It’s going to be counted as one of the top 20 field for marathon attending around the world. 

So not only do we have the amount of local and international people coming in to attend sporting events, but we’re also climbing up the standardisation of how sports event management should be.

Overseas properties like English soccer's Premier League are very popular in Thailand - everybody here seems to follow Manchester United or Liverpool. Do you see a time when Thai sport is watched and followed in many countries around the world in a similar way?

Actually it’s happening already. When muay Thai goes around the world or even is still here, we have quite a few million viewers from around the globe, watching, cheering at the same time. It inspires them to create a few more muay Thai gyms elsewhere - there are many hundreds, sometimes even thousands, in each country, and in Thailand each year we have more and more international travellers coming in.

At the same time we think there are quite a few Thai athletes becoming quite popular in some other fields. We have some soccer players playing in Japan, and they are now quite well known in Japan. We have some golfers who are now in a good ranking in the world. Badminton players, some of them have become world champions, and we have female volleyball players and boys’ futsal and ladies’ football.

When muay Thai goes around the world or even is still here, we have quite a few million viewers from around the globe, watching, cheering at the same time

Many people feel that we would not have had the imagination to go that far ten or 15 years ago. But with their courage and the support from the government and the people and the private sector, we see that the consecutive addition of triumphs keeps coming. And we see that the wave of support from normal people is enormous. They still keep coming. It’s maybe a phenomenon of the middle income generation that they want to see and they want to be a part of it. They want to inspire and they love to be inspired, and sport is one of the cool tools to bring all of them together. 

In terms of economics, we see the economic impact of each and every single sports event, either domestic, local or international, that generates for the local society. Not only do we receive more and more international visitors coming to attend sports events, but also we see that the local vendors are wearing a big smile every time there is any sporting event. In the olden days, we look back about 30 or 40 years, we tended to have more players than viewers. But these days the amount has done an 180-degree turn and not only are the viewers local but also international.

SportsPro is a principal media partner of SportAccord 2018. Check back for more event coverage throughout the week