22 May 2024

It should have been an occasion of soaring national pride as Thai badminton champions enjoyed the crowning success of their career. Instead, Thai viewers watched in embarrassment recently as the national flag was banned at the world championship victory ceremony for the Kingdom’s No 1 mixed doubles duo.

Patriotic fans were frustrated and angered by the embarrassing scene, blaming the government for a ban that has damaged Thailand’s standing in the sporting world.

Lamenting the “shame” caused to the nation, critics and opposition politicians demanded urgent action from the government.


Ban on national flag

The flag ban was imposed in early October by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), as punishment for Thailand’s failure to fully implement the global anti-doping code.

Along with Indonesia and North Korea, Thailand also lost the right to host major international sporting events for the duration of the one-year ban.

Thai athletes can still compete in regional, continental or world championships, but the national flag will only be raised at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

As such, when Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai won their first world title at the BWF World Championships in Spain on Dec 19, they received their trophy under the Badminton Association of Thailand’s ensign instead of the national flag.

The Thai duo were recently crowned world No 1 in mixed doubles, after winning eight of the nine finals they played this year.


Rushing law revision

Scrambling to get the WADA ban lifted, the Thai government is pushing an amendment to the Sports Doping Control Act of 2012 while appealing for permission to raise the national flag at international tournaments.

Realising it could take months for MPs to amend the law, the Cabinet on Tuesday (Dec 28) approved an executive decree on the control of anti-doping substances proposed by the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT). The law will take effect as soon as it receives royal endorsement, while the government can seek a parliamentary green light later, said Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

The executive decree was necessary because Thai authorities had promised WADA they would comply with its new code by January, Wissanu said. Any delay could cause more than Bt50 billion in economic damage to Thailand, he added.

The SAT will ask WADA to lift the ban as soon as the amended law takes effect.

SAT Governor Gongsak Yodmani said on Dec 22 that WADA was satisfied with the draft amendment, which it described as “completely in line with its anti-doping rules”.

Wissanu, who oversees the government’s legal affairs, said he was confident the ban would be lifted before the next Southeast Asian Games is hosted by Vietnam in May.

In fact, Thai authorities anticipate the Kingdom will be reinstated before it hosts the 2022 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in March. If not, Thailand faces the embarrassment of hosting a major tournament without being able to fly its national flag.


Frequent updates of rules

WADA regularly updates its code to keep up with latest performance-enhancing substances, and signatory countries – Thailand included – are required to comply with the new rules either through their anti-doping regulations or the country’s laws.

In force since January 1, 2021, the latest WADA code requires that coaches responsible for doped athletes face legal prosecution in addition to a lifetime ban. Thailand’s anti-doping law has no provision regarding this new requirement.

Also, the 2021 WADA Code requires that every signatory country’s national anti-doping agency (NADO) be independent from state control. Thailand’s NADO currently comes under the Sports Authority of Thailand. SAT chief Gongsak said it would soon be made independent to comply with WADA rules.

By Thai PBS World’s Sport Desk