Sports stars often claim they are ignorant of “politics.” They may be, although we doubt the claim when it comes to highly-ranked players who travel the world with entourages of managers, coaches, advisers and other minions. Some are outspoken, like Novak Djokovic who has proclaimed that he is a Serbian nationalist, while others like Rafael Nadal claim no politics.
We mention these two because they have landed themselves in the middle of the world’s only military dictatorship and have actively promoted that horrid regime and the symbols that underpin royalist politics. One report states that the two players “came to Bangkok to earn a few million dollars for an exhibition match. But there were a few strings attached.” The report stated that the two earned “a total of 150 million baht ($4.1 million) for coming to Thailand.” They were on court for about an hour. As another report has it, they “spent longer in official engagements than on the court.”
More important, however, was the before propaganda. Djokovic and Nadal put on the junta uniform of silk jackets in the royal colors of blue and yellow. The reports state that the “dress code was part of a tightly scripted trip meant to boost military-ruled Thailand’s image, which included a meeting with the junta leader.” They met with The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. They also “signed a book of well wishing for the … Thai [k]ing…” and visited the “Erawan Shrine, the site of a deadly bombing in August, where the players laid wreaths and posed for pictures under tight security…”.
Obviously money talks very loudly for the players, but the investment by the regime’s supporters must have been considered useful in propping up repression and authoritarianism.
Back on 2 September, it was reported that the “Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand is joining hands with True Corporation to hold a special tennis match featuring World’s Number One tennis player Novak Djokovic and former World’s Number One player Rafael Nadal at Hua Mark In-door stadium on October 2.”
Suwat Lipatawallop, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand, stated that “the organizing committee had been working out the programme of activities for the two players to promote tourism in Thailand.” In fact, the “program” was one of supporting the monarchy and military regime. Not that many tourists show up in Thailand to play tennis, but we imagine that the event was about branding, especially in Europe. where the coup and the rule of military dictators means Thailand has declined in the estimation of European tourists.
It was added that “the match will be an inspiration for Thai youths to turn to sports.”
Given that tickets were priced from 1,000-5,000 baht each, we guess that Suwat means the kids of the elite. Even if poor kids and the disable were to be invited, to be polite, tennis is not widely played by the poor.
This event was the military dictatorship’s propaganda exercise. With Suwat Liptapanlop (สุวัจน์ ลิปตพัลลภ) as president, the administration of the LTAT is dominated by the military and funded by the Sino-Thai tycoons of the royalist elite.
When the “special tennis match was disclosed at a press conference held at the Grand Hyatt Erawan,” Suwat was joined by Supachai Chearavanont, a vice chairman of the giant Charoen Pokphand group and CEO of the True Corporation. The generals were gleeful when it was announced that the military-tycoon elite had captured two big name sportsmen.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand claimed the tennis players had “helped to promote Thailand’s tourist credentials,” and saying that they had shown that “it’s business as usual” under the military junta.
That’s the point. Money invested by the tycoons and state for propagandizing for the military and its monarchy.