Carabao: Thai rocker turned drinks mogul energising English football

This photograph taken on February 17, 2018 shows Yuenyong Opakul, 63, lead singer of legendary Thai rock band Carabao and owner of Carabao energy drink, posing for a portrait outside his home in Bangkok. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018
0

Carabao: Thai rocker turned drinks mogul energising English football

BANGKOK: On Sunday evening an aging Thai rock star with hooped earrings, signature bandana and a wispy moustache will be at the home of English football to present the Carabao Cup to either Arsenal or Manchester City.
His prominence will baffle many football fans, not to mention some of the players celebrating the first silverware of the season at London’s Wembley Stadium.
But in Thailand, the 63-year-old Yuenyong Opakul is a legend.
He is the lead singer of the band Carabao, and co-founder of the energy drink company now sponsoring the English Football League (EFL) cup.
Better known as Aed Carabao (pronounced “At“), he helped catalyze the band’s massive following into consumers of high-caffeine drinks.
Its giddying ascent since 2002 now sees Carabao outsell Red Bull in Thailand, where hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of the sugary beverages are slurped down each year.
With an eye on new markets, Carabao has plowed cash into English football, hoping for a fast-track to global brand recognition.
The company has spent 30 million pounds ($42 million) to sponsor Chelsea’s training kit, a further 18 million pounds on a three-year EFL cup contract as well as paying to have its name emblazoned on Reading FC’s strip.
It’s been a “very successful” investment so far, says Aed.
“English people are very focused on football. They didn’t know us before but people are talking about the brand now,” he says sitting in his large garden in a Bangkok suburb.
Thai money and English football have had a strong chemistry ever since billionaire ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City in 2007.
He flipped it just over a year later for a handsome profit to Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi whose oil fortune has hoisted City into football’s elite.
Thailand’s duty free magnate Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was next in, buying Leicester City for about 40 million pounds ($58 million) in 2010 and clearing the club’s large debts.
Six years later the Midlands minnows stormed to the Premier League title, the players celebrating in shirts stamped with Vichai’s “King Power” brand.
Sheffield Wednesday are owned by Dejphon Chansiri of the Thai Union family — the world’s biggest tinned tuna producers — while Singha beer has partnered with Manchester United.
A commercial link with English football guarantees swift “international exposure,” says Pavida Pananond, an academic at Thammasat University’s Business School in Bangkok.
“This strategy is not new. Red Bull has done it before with Formula 1 and extreme sports,” she added of the part Thai-owned energy drinks firm.
Aed Carabao is no stranger to brand-building.
The one-time architecture student who studied in the Philippines, hence the band’s Tagalog name, has spun fame and fortune from his distinctive country-rock style, rasping voice and acerbic lyrics skewering corruption, inequality and forces of reaction.
He designed the skull-and-horns Carabao logo, which is across band paraphernalia — and even copyrighted a hand sign that represents the eponymous buffalo.
The band has toured Thailand for more than three decades cultivating a loyal base of nostalgic fans but also youngsters drawn to his stage presence and lyricism.
“Like BB King I’ll keep playing until I die,” Aed says with a smile, tucking a streak of black hair into his bandana, a Carabao-branded mug on the table in front of him.
The band emerged in the early 1980s with an unabashed pro-democracy agenda following a decade of political turbulence when crackdowns killed hundreds of student activists.
Several songs were banned by authorities, gifting Aed something of a bad-boy reputation.
But age and commercial success has diluted Aed’s taste for controversy, more so in the social media age where junta-run Thailand’s sharply polarized politics tend to chew up anyone who speaks out.
“I am not on anyone’s side,” he says, rejecting criticism he has sold out. “But if the people aren’t educated about democracy, we cannot move forward.”
Carabao is a colorful name for a trophy that has traditionally relied on more parochial sponsors, including Britain’s milk board and Rumbelows, a now-defunct white-goods retailer.
The Thai tie-up also endured an inauspicious start.
In June the EFL was forced to apologize after error-strewn graphics appeared on their online broadcast of the first-round draw for the Carabao Cup.
The third-round draw stirred more consternation after it was held in Beijing, demanding a pre-dawn wake-up by British fans to follow it live.
Yet the timings reflected Carabao’s relentless marketing push, concerned first with seeking a foothold in China’s massive market.
As he prepares to travel to London for the cup final, the genial singer is in similarly uncompromising mood.
“I’ll be dressed cool... maybe in a suit because it’s cold, but everything else the same,” he said.


Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Updated 21 June 2018
0

Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

  • Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
  • “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”

CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.

Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.