The British Summer may not be ideal, but it’s been a scorching few weeks of sport in Britain. In fact we seem to have entered a Golden Era for UK Sport - and Thailand and ASEAN.
(Perhaps it's best, albeit unusual in the conference season and the MalaysiaRail event, for me to be quartered here in UK given the rains in Thailand). First off the sports grid though there’s Andy Murray winning the Wimbledon Men’s Final so officially becoming a Brit rather than a Scot.
Something seems to have been put in the tea at Wimbledon, presumably nothing stronger than an extra sugar lump given the recent scandals in athletics and cycling, with Britain’s Heather Watson winning the Mixed Doubles. And Britain’s Gordon Reid becoming the first Wheelchair Tennis Men’s Singles Champion. Plus the World Cup of Tennis, the Davis Cup, underway with the UK defending the trophy against Serbia this week.
While Wales ended 58 years in the football wilderness by reaching the semi-finals in UEFA Euro 2016. England of course lost to Iceland, at best avoiding the traditional British football route of losing to Germany on penalties.
Northern Ireland and Eire played well and so are both officially sort of British, with Eire even gaining a medal from the Parisian Mayor for sportsmanship - a triumph of the footballing minnows for once.
While England Manager, Kent’s Roy Hodgson – a player for not one but 5 Kent teams(!) from Ebbsfleet to Ashford to Tonbridge resigned to make way for new Lions. Only Mark Clattenburg was left waving a small England flag in refereeing the Euro Final.
While the Iceland defeat was awful, Hodgson's record as England manager was better than most in recent years and undoubtedly should be commemorated, on a street sign or stadium, in the Ebbslfeet New Town – the Khon Kaen of Kent if you will - part of the Thames Gateway mega-development.
Even the Tour de France, that iconic French sport, rivalled only by petanque, saw Britain develop its unheralded cycling expertise despite Bradley Wiggins Olympic Gold and Tour de France win in 2012. This weekend saw Brits gaining 3 of the 4 prized jerseys: Chris Froome, race leader in yellow, Adam Yates, white for best young rider and Mark Cavendish in green this season for points. With a reigning champion in Chris Froome, and Mark Cavendish now within a lycra seam of Belgium’s great Eddy Merckx for the most stage wins UK Cycling is surging.
This week also sees the Pakistan vs England Men's Test Match at Lords, and if England football went to Iceland then Heather Knight, Captain of England Women's Cricket has gone to Waitrose for an energy drink or two, already beating Pakistan last month in the One Day International, then the whole Series and then the T20 series.
And the British Grand Prix at Silverstone saw a Lewis Hamilton win, narrowly ahead of the Dutch boy racer, 18 year old Max Verstappen, for the Red Bull team.
It’s apt that Red Bull, Thailand’s energy drink is amongst several key Thai brands for UK sports – the Premier League commencing in the next few weeks with King Power’s Leicester City defending the title.
And Everton sponsored by Chang as part of its Asia strategy, with NEC and Kejiang previously. And even the mighty Liverpool fending off a takeover by Chinese art billionaire Liu Yiqian, China’s 47th richest man. He's no doubt excited that Liverpool’s first home game against the Siamese Foxes in September will attract 54,000 fans. A game that will be the highest attendance at Anfield in 40 years, and part of the stadium building programme of adding an extra 5,000 seats.
Hi-Energy UK and Thailand Sports Diplomacy Beyond A Political Football:
As a UK MP candidate with an emphasis on Thailand and ASEAN, shouldn’t the tsunami of support for English football in Asia – especially Thailand, be more effectively reflected in UK policy?
Politicians often rather desperately tap into football for support – remember PM David Cameron professing support for West Ham Villa? Or was it Aston Ham? I’m no huge sports fan (is Kenny Dalglish still playing?) preferring to play them – well, Swimming or Crazy Golf anyway - than watch them, although I do find event football matches on the big screen strangely meditative and relaxing.
Leaving the glitter of trophies and roar of the crowd aside for a moment, Sports Science is a huge UK growth industry in itself whether STEM, nutrition (Andy Murray feasting on an Asian diet of fish and rice and a whole melon and berry smoothies before the Final), or DNA analysis or injury treatment, and a burgeoning part of the conflux of Sports Business and Sports Medicine that filters through into the NHS. Unfortunately sports doping is still vital for pharma labs given the recent Russian Athletics or Tennis or Cycling scandals, and ever-expanding plethora of strange substances. While Rio 2016 has been affected by the wider problems of pandemics with Zika causing Jason Day, World Golf No.1 and several others to pull out of those Games.
And the Tech Sports arena is already increasing and showing a clean pair of heels, whether goal-line or baseline rulings, virtual advertising hoardings and graphics or the Digital Squash Screen a real-life Wii for training and fun. As with Dodgeball a new sport in the making, especially as Squash was notoriously difficult to televise and develop as a spectator sport.
Sports Diplomacy Shoots and Scores for UK and Thailand:
And with my advertising hat on, aren’t both UK plc and Thailand plc failing to maximise the business opportunities of sports together? Sure there are football display matches in Bangkok from Chelsea or England or the mighty Gunners. But all rather ad-hoc, and driven by the demands of the Premiership rather than a systemic programme of sports for better UK-Thai relations.
Thailand is after all one of the top 5 UK Growth Markets for the future - along with other football-mad Asia-Pacific nations such as Vietnam and Mexico and Chile and Argentina. And British Football-mad at that.
The eye-popping number of Premier League football shirts in Thailand though is astonishing, whether tuk-tuk or taxi drivers or the street fashion of food vendors, university students or school kids. Lord Green, the Chairman of HSBC and a UK Trade Minister on a trip to Thailand and ASEAN expressed his astonishment on the prevalence of UK football and fashion.
Indeed the astonishing thing about say Thailand taking UK football so completely to its heart (by comparison try finding a LaLiga or Bundesliga match) is every bar or shopping mall or train plasma screen showing the latest UK matches day or night. And not just the big boys of St James’ Park or The Toffee Men etc, but the whole spectrum of The Great British Beautiful Game whether Charlton Athletic or Ipswich Town or Stoke City – teams you’d struggle to follow in UK never mind thousands of miles away in Asia. (Only joking Charlton!).
And the passion for UK football is as strong in Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam - DaNang for example the site of huge UK investment in universities and tech colleges and fortunately the VLeague team doing well as runners up.
The popularity of Soccer in Asia is borne out in detailed research. For example, Hakuhodo research for Panasonic detailed sports in the 10 main Asian cities from Delhi to Tokyo, both to play and watch.
Soccer was the No.1 sport to watch with only Manila citing Basketball instead and Taipei Baseball. Delhi opted for Cricket as the No.1 Sport, but that was closely followed by Soccer.
Badminton, Tennis - even before the UK surge at Wimbledon - and Volleyball all featured highly. And in participating sports, Soccer, Swimming and Cycling all featured in every city.
Strangely Taipei was the only city not to feature Soccer at all, with Jogging being the main Sport in the other cities. Perhaps one for detailed UK Sports Diplomacy efforts. And the research quibbled over whether Bowling was a sport rather than a hobby but didn’t pass the same critical eye over Motorsports which also featured. Neither Snooker nor Takraw nor Martial Arts featured despite being almost ubiquitous in Asia.
While participating in Sports, had Bangkok as the only city at No.1 for Football, and Walking and Jogging being the main sport in every city with Taipei and Seoul opting for hiking.
Swimming, Badminton and Cycling were all heavily participated in, with Delhi choosing Cricket as it’s second most active sport after walking.
Interestingly, watching Figure Skating featured highly in Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul but nowhere else. While sadly, only in Tokyo and Seoul were all 5 main participatory sports undertaken solo. Not even a robot for company.
While, if Bangkok can enjoy tropical heat and several indoor ice rinks it’s absurd that East Kent is unable to provide such leisure facilities. You'd think Torvill and Dean never existed.
Friends and family in Thailand smile and joke about the chaotic state of UK politics after the Brexit silliness, comparing the BKK Shutdown and Thailand upheavals previously with the pro-EU marches in Piccadilly. In the short-term of Brexit, the only benefit so far is better value from the pound sterling for Thai tourists. Perhaps another flood of UK football scarves and shirts on Bangkok’s streets when they fly back? With 54,250 used Wimbledon tennis balls being sold off for £3 each but ending up on Ebay for £20 each that demonstrates at a stroke the value of Sports Memorabilia industries.
If the UK Foreign Office is on something of a back foot in explaining the disastrous Brexit result, and a 25% budget cut between 2010 and 2015, then Sir Simon Fraser the previous FCO head mandarin, interviewed by The Sunday Times last week, has rightly called for greater opportunities in balancing the mix of aid, defence and diplomacy. He cites diplomacy as both cheap and effective. In aid the UK is already a world-leader and even FCO benefits from its own specific $600M DFID budget plus extra Cultural Diplomacy funds from the British Council and BBC.
To lose dominance in the English language and culture such as Sports would be a spectacular mishap, what's the phrase, akin to coming out to bat to find your own team has smashed the wicket, given not just the current Great Summer of Sport, but that Britain invented Football, Cricket, Golf, Rugby and so on.
The NATO 2% defence budget rather than 0.7% aid, increasingly looks excessive given that the rest of the EU27 struggles to reach c.1.3%, and the excessive costs of new F35 jets (£100M each: the cost of about 3,000 Surin Schools and educations for c.150K schoolkids and c.15K teaching jobs), over 500 Jackal armoured cars something of a kneejerk response to the Snatch Landrover Mobile Coffins MOD scandal of Iraq2 and the Chilcot report, and rushed vote on multi-billion Trident submarines amidst the political wreckage of Brexit.
ASEAN and Sports and Kent:
It’s a wider debate relevant in East Asia too with the dangers of both excessive arms spending and a naval arms race around the Paracels and Spratlys, now ruled against China by PCA in The Hague, rather than vaccines or Haiyan aid. Strangely both China and Thailand investing in Ukrainain kit of aircraft carriers and tanks, given Ukraine is the only European nation and military losing territory at the moment. Brexit aside.
Andy Murray cheered onto victory by Murray Mound replacing Henman Hill sported a No More Malaria logo on his sports shirt, which raises an interesting issue around sports sponsorship by NGO’s in Asia-Pacific as with UNICEF and Barcelona.
UK has also seen a surge in sports after the hat-trick of Olympic Games with London 2012 perhaps the best-ever organised Olympics and a benchmark for Rio in just 4 weeks. And is it so outrageous that the Arts Medals that featured in the Olympics until the second London Games of 1948 could be revived? Especially with so few of the professional golfers interested in bothering to attend the Olympics?
The ASEAN Games and Phuket Asian Beach Games recently demonstrated to me both the power of Thailand’s organisation of sports, range of display sports, and Muay Thai martial arts in Phuket for farangs – and surely Sintu, Sakorn and Samut and could be further developed as UK-Thailand Youth Sports mascots?
While Takraw, not so dissimilar to Keepy-Uppy, could introduce Thai sports to UK along with other niche sports such as Urban Golf from Hoxton to Haiphong. And certainly stimulate broadcast rights in UK for ASEAN games and sports such as Takraw.
It's interesting that the current ASEM Summit in Mongolia doesn't include Sports Diplomacy in any substantial or meaningful way.
Sports Diplomacy shouldn't be a fluffy nice-to-have: various research programmes in UK eg Cardiff University cite the often difficult ways to measure economic benefits of sport – except for the feel-good factor. The boost in morale from your team winning is reflected in the buzz of the workplace and classroom, and the surge online or the High Street for souvenir scarves and booklets as well as the next matches tickets. It's not just the 15M that can watch on television, a game such as England v. Iceland but the knock-on effect of newspaper headlines, news reports and math pundits and workplace chat that can boost morale.
Kent Police have been active on research and innovation programmes, with football and the increase in domestic violence (unfortunately a 10% uplift from England losing) and reducing racism and hate crime from Englands’s previous unsavoury reputation for hooliganism.
As well as research on drugs such as Afghan and Shan heroin given Frontline Kent status as the nexus between London, Amsterdam and Paris. And with Kent's Folkestone and Maidstone Ghurkas rotating back through Kabul and the worsening security situation. Again innovative sports and work programmes such as Doitung are crucial in such areas - the UK recording in Glasgow this week its largest ever drug haul of 3 tonnes of cocaine worth £500M and Kent just a few months ago the largest ever gun haul of over 30 machine guns.
But the 2007 Grand Depart in London and Kent,just the first UK stages of the Tour De France, resulted in £80M in direct spend of food, tickets, souvenirs, hotels etc. As well as £15M in indirect spend, 2,000 FTE jobs, and Transport for London estimates over 2.85M spectators travelling to the event. That's just one not particularly well promoted event for a rather neglected sport so far in UK.
But even where the economic benefits can be variable: an increase in sports tourists balanced by those staying away from the crowds, or not interested in sports there's a groundswell of sports participation. Britain's greatest sports after all are Swimming and Angling – here in Kent seafishing being a key niche. And from the first years of the Disabled Games, there’s been a rapid growth in the Paralympic Games and now the Invictus Games for wounded troops.
In Kent, the 2012 Olympics on Kent's doorstep and the super-fast HS1 hispeed rail saw something of a political scandal with few if any legacy benefits such as stadia or events for the millions of pounds in promotion – the Grand Depart cycle race now lost to the Tour De Yorkshire, and as an official Tour de France stage too.
That's still something of a body-blow to Kent given its numerous sports stars: Dame Kelly Holmes, winning two Athletics golds in the 2004 Olympics, Sarah Ayton OBE winning gold in in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics for Sailing, Sean King the 2012 water polo ace, and Georgina Harland winning bronze for Pentathlon in 2004.
Women’s sports in general in UK have blossomed with Women Football and Women Cycling ready to give Thailand’s Volleyball and Badminton and Golf expertise a run for their money.
While, UK Athletics even without star names like Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis-Hill gained their biggest haul of medals in the European championships for 58 years at the weekend in Amsterdam. And the Ruby Europe Sevens also triumphed over France to win gold.
Sports Diplomacy on your Bike?
And as The Open begins at Troon, obviously there are massive opportunities for Golf in both UK and Thailand, with the extensive greens in Kent of over 100 courses, Prince Andrew recently hosting World Bank CEO Jim Yong Kim at the Royal St Georges Sandwich course, apt for the Kent Cuisine Coast, previously trod by icons such as Tiger Woods and Ian Fleming's James Bond and Goldfinger.
The London Marathon, and easier Park Run, attract record crowds and the Guinness World record for c.$60M in fundraising: as does RunBKK or the quirkier sports such as the very British Brompton Cycling races with UK Embassy support.
While England’s football youth under Gareth Southgate for U21 are woefully neglected for their skills eg Ruben Loftus-Cheek stymied at Chelsea but victorious in the U21’s at Toulon in May - the first time in 22 years. With 50% youth unemployment in much of Europe and at least 20% in UK, the superstars of the future, and sports industries of the future, are already lacing their boots and need support beyond mere flying the flag.
The Brexit debate has sparked a review of England’s consistently poor performance in major football events and foreign players in the Premier League: 35% home nation players in 2014-15 compared to 58% in Spain 56% in France and 48% in Germany. As with UK film and television quotas, as France already has in place, there’s a sensible debate to be had on the balance of internationalism and encouraging home-grown talent.
It's a debate as viable for Thai cycling champions such as Khun Jutathip Maneephan or English footballers, with mega-teams such as Real Madrid now having to pay back millions in EU State Aid as an unfair advantage.
And if football is such an open goal for UK-Thai relations then where are the Thai teams on tour in UK? Shouldn’t the roar of The Thundercastles echo through Wembley or Old Trafford? Shouldn’t Insee Police United feature in display matches or a tussle with Cambodian Tigers or Can Tho or Champa FC, if not a regular Great British ASEAN Football League?
And shouldn’t the influx of Thai tourists face more organised Stadium Tours to the cathedrals of football in their trips to Britain?
Thailand’s upsurge in cycling in recent years – almost unthinkable on Vietnam’s dangerous main road(s) – again needs a UK-ASEAN Tournament, with Cycling UK or the Sports Council, whether along the new Chaopraya promenade or under-developed Yodpiman heritage walk, or around Thailand’s provinces as is beginning with Nan a dedicated cycling town and routes for Tourism Thailand Thainess.
Sports Diplomacy and Sports Tourism are still something of an undiscovered gem for both UK and Thailand, and could easily be ramped up and I’d suggest a focus on: Football, Cycling, Beach (volleyball, swimming, beach soccer and cricket, beach polo), Cricket and Niche (Golf, Paralympics, Invictus, Womens, even Kent's Pickleball and Petanque experts)as core UK sports.
Indeed is it so impossible that the BBC and Thai television and radio channels couldn’t organise a joint venture on Sports, Tourism and Culture as well as exchanges of Free-to-Air channels? Especially given the innovative BBC White Paper reforms this month, led by another ASEAN Trade Minister Lord Puttnam of The Killing Fields movie fame – filmed on location in Hua Hin and Phuket. A Sydney Schanberg media event could also be a fitting memorial to the NY Times reporter who died recently but broke the news of the Pol Pot regime.
Besides the BBC, Channel Four has dived into the Paralympics but often failed to tackle its remit for innovation through sports in recent years – Sumo or Kabbadi or American Football are a distant memory in terms of previous efforts and investment, and confined to the subs bench now.
Sports has never been more important with the UNFAO 2016 Global Nutrition report highlighting malnutrition in terms of obesity that now affects one in three people with resulting increases in cancer and diabetes. And obesity has trebled in the last 30 years - the Measuring Up report by the Medical Royal Colleges describes Britain as the Fat Man of Europe with one in four adults obese. And it’s interesting that the top 5 includes those nations that did well in Euro2016: Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Germany. Not so much beach-body-ready or match-ready as sofa-ready.
Certainly sugar and salt and fat taxes, product reformulations and promotion bans are key, but so is regular exercise at school and university and even work. Japan’s exercise culture in factories look less risible now.
Barclays and its Digital Eagles helped popularise Walking Football for the elderly with the first national tournament in November and afficionados such as Geoff Hurst from the 1966 World Cup team still going strong.
Sports Diplomacy after a Fashion:
If London and Bangkok’s traffic has improved beyond waliking pace in in recent years with the Chaopraya Prom plans, or futuristic Skytrain and dynamic SRT expansion of the trains and metro, now with the Orange and Purple lines and bus links in just over a decade – surely UK expertise in the bus (an everlasting London icon with the British Bobby for good reason) could help improve transport in Thailand whether to and from the sports stadiums or just getting to work?
Holland or Denmark may well be world leaders in cycling out of the Velodrome, but a British bus whether with a clean and green Rolls Royce engine or not is something to see and experience - not just on the traditional open-top double-decker bus tour for FA Cup winners or Leicester City earlier this year. Disabled access is paramount and I had to double-take recently at a bus that is pneumatically lowered at bus stops to allow elderly and disabled passenger on and off more easily while raising to navigate potholes or puddles for a smoother ride during the English Summer monsoon.
While Active Sports Diplomacy could highlight key issues in Thailand, whether that’s Road Safety and Cycling or Football and Fashion or Swimming and Water safety all of which must be relevant for sports brands too. Obviously Student Games and UK University scholarships too, beyond the usual faces of Chula and Thammasat, and across Kasetsart, SPU, Webster, Silpakorn, UTCC, Sri Nakharin Wirot University and Mahidol Business School.
The UK Football Association or UK Athletics have massive and deep grassroots sports programmes far beyond just the glitz and glamour of a Beckham or Man Utd eg the innovative goalkeeper schools from Arsenal, or schools programme with Show Racism the Red Card or Kick It Out supported by Ipswich and Leicester amongst many teams or Schools Cricket across Surrey and Kent.
Sailing is clearly a Sports shoo-in for Asia and UK cooperation whether from the Hainan developments after Beijing 2008, and series of local events around Phuket and Pattaya, whether yachts or kayaks or powerboats all relevant for links with Cowes.
And with China declaring football a National Strategic Issue for their 2030 Plan it would be as short-sighted as the Specsavers County Cricket Championships for UK and Thailand to neglect their existing strengths and potential in football.
While Sports Fashion (is athleisure really a word now?)is a political issue in UK at the moment with Sports Direct and other retailers shown the yellow card on minimum pay and working conditions in warehouses in UK, and the textiles supply chain abroad in Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Sports Fashion is crucial for the UK economy with Central Saint Martin’s arts and Fashion School or London College of Fashion, new Artsopolis Stratford, and retail giants such as Lord Rose of Arcadia and Marks and Spencer punching above their weight.
Fashion is a £28BN economic benefit to UK and employs 880,000 people, and can instantly marshal 500 heavyweight (or stick-thin) designers (that already clothe Asia and litter Bangkok’s innovative malls such as Paragon, MBK and Ploenchit) such as Paul Smith, Burberry, Alexander McQueen - and Kent’s Vivienne Westwood and Karen Millen.
And the British Fashion Council and Creative Industries Council pulling foreign designers together in UK eg Portugal’s Marques Almeida. All ripe for collaborations with ASEAN organisations such as the dynamic LCFS Hanoi Fashion College, an innovative partnership with Northumbria University, just as Kasetsart and Newcastle University are steaming ahead into the 21st century on ASEANRail and HS2 and HS3 cooperation over the next decade, with ideally ScotEireRail.
While Stella McCartney must be putting the half-time band through their paces for the 50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper next year, and helping UK Fashion balance the conflicting trends of vertical integration: sheep to shop if you will, or the armada of outsourcing opportunities for fashion and sportswear from Bangladesh to Battambang for Nike and Adidas and Fred Perry, the Andy Murray of his day in Sports and Fashion.
And a cohesive UK-Thai Sports Diplomacy programme, could be a huge economic boost to both Thailand (70% Foreign Direct Investment in Thailand down) and UK (35% of Thai investment in UK down) that could surge with the likes of Bangkok Bank - just one London office for such a financial giant?
Or SCB or True or Tourism Thailand or SCG, (Red Bull’s already doing rather well in UK’s supermarkets and shops), and NL brands such as Campina and Dutch Mill, lending corporate weight to sports activity – especially in entering the UK market with both UK ad Thai trade support. And undoubtedly into the EU as Brexit drifts away with new UK political leadership.
UK and Thailand already have c.$8BN in joint trade, and UK invests c.$15BN in Thailand fro standing start, so Sports Diplomacy and the new Golden Era of Great British Sport is just warming up before the kickoff.
Tim Garbutt is a UK MP candidate with an emphasis on Thailand and ASEAN links, and director of Surin Village School charity, and Sincerity Advertising.
• Tim Howes the legal beagle at TDC seems determined to keep silent and cash his pay cheque despite the Cayman Islands and BVI scandals contaminating Kent's governance
• Clarendon School selling off sports fields with a new consultation on the rates seems to belie all the above points on sport and obesity etc
• Silence too from Berry, Button and Sproates and senior management at TDC and KCC on the faked/removed Manston monitors and Thor mercury discharge
* Silence from Wellington airport in NZ with the same Infratil directors of Fitzgerald etc as Manston, Prestwick etc - Wellington now Asia's most dangerous airport?
* Silence from Ann Gloag billionaire and Stagecoach founder from the missing fines/monitors from Manston under her ownership
• Lord Grabiner of the notorious One Essex Court barristers of GLickQC/Hollingworth etc castigated in the FT as "Lord Grabafee" over the Philip Green/Chappell BHS £500M pensions scandal/fraud
* Sincerity article: Thai Foreign Minister, Khun Surin Pitsuwan and Thai-UK trade:
* Sincerity article: Soda Wars go pop http://sincerityagency.blogspot.co.uk/
* Surin Charity: Malaria a brief thought: http://surinvillagecharityschool.blogspot.co.uk/
* Sincerity article on Coca-Cola: http://sincerityagency.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/sweet-moves-from-coca-cola.html
* 21st century Britain agenda article: http://lovekentloveramsgate.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/a-21st-century-britain-agenda.html
* No Tobacco Day Smoking Sincerity article: http://sincerityagency.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/axaing-tobacco-and-china.html
* EK Remedial points 2016: http://lovekentloveramsgate.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/kent-remedial-work-and-uk.html
* EK strategy 2016: http://lovekentloveramsgate.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/garbutt-time-for-change-2016-east-kent.html
* Time for a Free Economy article: http://lovekentloveramsgate.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/time-for-free-economy-tobacco-china-and.html
* Surin restaurant review: top Thai restaurant in Kent:
- Surin Thai restaurant the best Thai restaurant in Kent and one of only 45 of any cuisine in Kent according to KM:
* The Bridges of Battambang to follow