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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

FIFA World Cup Football Trophy brings cheer to Bangkok

FIFA World Cup Football Trophy brings cheer to Bangkok

Ever since details of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour itinerary were announced, the people of Thailand had been keenly waiting for the day of its arrival on 10 March.

The fourth and last port of call on the Trophy's South-East Asian odyssey, Bangkok pulled out all the stops to ensure that every football fan would be aware of the event. The event also brought a huge smile to a number of local disadvantaged children.

Football's popularity in Thailand is self-evident. On the streets of Bangkok, countless children sport the shirts of famous football teams and the bumpers of the famous little 'touk-touk' taxis are emblazoned with stickers of the leading English clubs. This popularity was borne out in the results of a recent poll which showed that in Thailand more people watch football on television than in any other Asian country.

Not bad at all for a nation which has never taken part in a FIFA World Cup, a state of affairs that every last Thai would love to see change. And the coming to town of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola could very well accelerate the process.

"The Trophy Tour will be a source of great joy to all Thai fans," said Worawi Maduki, a member of FIFA's executive committee and general secretary of the Thai Football Federation at a press conference. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope that it will encourage Thai players to work hard in training and to stay focused and disciplined so that one day, we can succeed in an international competition."

And what finer symbol of success than the most popular Trophy in the world? As part of his plan to get even closer to it one day, Thorn Sourapoom, coach of the national youth team, has decided to seek inspiration from those who know it best, five-times world champions Brazil.

"We're going to organise a training camp for the youth team in Brazil. I feel that spending time living in such a passionate football country will help us to improve," he explained as his proteges were photographed one by one with the Trophy. "Thai football is developing steadily and one of these days, we are going to take a big leap forward."

Combining pleasure with concrete help
For every last member of Thailand's football community, the visit to their country of the FIFA World Cup Trophy is an inspirational source of motivation. Whether for the senior national team, their female counterparts or the youth side present in Bangkok on Saturday, the message is the same, as Makudi explained: "Bringing this football icon to Thailand should encourage the young and all of Thailand's footballers to realise their dreams and fulfil all their potential."

The presence of the Trophy means the dreams of a few young Thais have already come true. The children from the Father Joe Association, which collects funds to help disadvantaged children, even saw two of their wishes realised within a quarter of an hour.

"During the film, at times I felt like I was flying through space! It was fantastic," beamed eight-year-old Suwan on the subject of the 3-D film presenting the origins of the Trophy. "Then, I saw the real World Cup, the same one which Michael Ballack is going to lift this summer!"

Other children have also benefited from the Trophy's fame. Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhom's Foundation, established to implement educational programmes for youngsters, raised a significant amount of money at a Trophy-related auction organised by Coca-Cola Thailand on Saturday.

To commemorate the princess' 50th birthday, the company manufactured 50,000 collectors-item golden bottles in the image of the FIFA World Cup. Five of them, decorated with a jewel set with precious stones, were put up for auction on Saturday evening at Bangkok's Royal Parangon Hall. The sale raised over 500,000 bahts, equivalent to about 10,000 euros, including 250,000 for the last bottle alone. This money will be used to help the children cared for by the princess' foundation.

To symbolise the commitment of the Thai football community to this cause, each bottle was presented to the delighted new owners by a national sporting celebrity. Doing the honours were Chkedee Indaruk, Thai football's current wonder kid from the U-17 side; national karate champion Yanisa Toewattana; former Thai international Prasert Changmoon; national team coach Chanwit Polcheevin; and Pirom Anprasert, a Thai FIFA referee who officiated at Korea/Japan 2002.

As FIFA spokesman Emmanuel Maradas pointed out at the opening ceremony: "The FIFA World Cup Trophy is travelling to 29 countries on all five continents because it belongs to everyone. And because it brings happiness to everyone." This Saturday evening, the Trophy certainly had all Thai football-lovers in raptures, demonstrating once again that the beautiful game spreads happiness far beyond the confines of the pitch and terraces.

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