Football: New Thai FA chief, a former top cop, outlines lofty ambitions for local game

Former Thai police chief Somyot Poompanmoung, the new president of the country's football association, has promised transparency.
Former Thai police chief Somyot Poompanmoung, the new president of the country's football association, has promised transparency.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • A colourful former police chief backed by Leicester City's billionaire owners was yesterday elected as president of the embattled Football Association of Thailand, in a vote prompted by the suspension of the scandal-mired former boss.

Somyot Poompanmoung, a straight-talking officer known in the kingdom for leading a crackdown on police corruption and declaring his assets at more than US$11.5 million (S$16 million) when he became the country's top cop, scooped up 62 of the available 72 votes from football clubs and officials.

He was the front-runner in a rowdy and often acrimonious campaign that brought to light massive public discontent with the game's administrators in the football-mad country.

"We will keep our promises and our work will be transparent," Somyot told reporters after the landslide vote, adding that a Fifa representative congratulated him on "joining the football family".

The 61-year-old was supported by a number of big Thai football clubs as well as his friend Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the billionaire owner of table-topping English Premier League outfit Leicester.

He succeeds Worawi Makudi, a former Fifa insider and Thai football's Teflon man who for years fended off endless scandals with lawsuits and bravado.

Worawi, a Fifa executive committee member for 18 years until last May, could not run in yesterday's election after being suspended by the game's governing body over an alleged breach of its ethical code.

He denies any wrongdoing.

Instead, Worawi is widely believed to have backed former Thai national team coach Charnvit Pholchivin, who received just four votes. Other candidates included Nataphol Teepsuwan, chairman of Bangkok FC, also a former policeman and a Football Association of Thailand administrator.

"After today's election, I want everyone to work together and hope the conflicts will disappear so Thai football can move forward," Nataphol told reporters ahead of the vote.

The jocular Somyot, who enjoys a kick-about, has vowed to clean up the sport, allocate funds fairly and raise refereeing standards.

He wants to establish a national-level academy system and says his links with Leicester City will help boost the quality of Thai coaches and backroom staff.

Somyot, who was appointed after a 2014 coup, is tipped to pursue a career in politics once elections have been restored to the military-run country.

Sport is a lever to power in the spin-dryer politics of Thailand. The owner of one of Thailand's best clubs, Buriram United FC - who also backed Somyot - is a powerful former politician.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Former top cop's lofty ambitions for Thai football'. Print Edition | Subscribe