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
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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.


South Sudan surgeon wins UN prize for treating war-hit refugees

Updated 2 min 17 sec ago
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South Sudan surgeon wins UN prize for treating war-hit refugees

NAIROBI: A South Sudanese surgeon, who has spent two decades helping the sick and injured in the war-torn east African nation, was on Tuesday announced the winner of a UN prize for treating tens of thousands of people forced to flee violence and persecution.
Evan Atar Adaha — a 52-year-old doctor who runs the only hospital in northeastern Maban county — was given the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award for his “humanity and selflessness” where he often risked his safety to serve others, the UN said.
“I feel very humbled. I hope this award can help draw attention to the plight of refugees especially here in Africa where they are often forgotten about,” Adaha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“You may hear and read about them, but it’s only when you are face-to-face with people who have left everything and are sick with malaria, or are malnourished, or have a bullet wound that you realize how desperate the need for help is.” Nansen Refugee Awardees are recognized by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for dedicating their time to help people forced from their homes. Former awardees include Eleanor Roosevelt and Luciano Pavarotti.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been ravaged by civil war since 2013 after clashes erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
The government recently signed a peace agreement with rebels, but the five-year-long war has had a devastating impact.
At least 50,000 people have been killed and one in three South Sudanese have been uprooted from their homes. The country also hosts around 300,000 refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Sudan, according to the UN.
Adaha, known locally as Dr. Atar, has been running Maban hospital — which was once an abandoned health clinic — in the northeastern town of Bunj since 2011.
When he first arrived, he said there was no operating theater and he had to stack tables to create a work area.
Over the years, he has transformed the hospital and created a maternity ward and nutrition center, as well as training young people as nurses and midwives.
The 120-bed hospital now serves around 200,000 people living in Maban county — 70 percent of whom are refugees from Sudan — and conducts about 60 operations weekly but under very difficult circumstances.
Adaha said the only x-ray machine is broken, the operating theater has only one light, and electricity is provided by generators that often break down.
Although the hospital receives support from UNHCR, Adaha said a lack of funds remains his biggest challenge to treating everyone who needs help. “In the hospital, we will treat anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a rebel, government soldier, refugee or a local person. We have pregnant women, malnourished children and even people who are wounded by bullets,” Adaha said.
“The one rule we have is that no weapons are allowed in the hospital. If you bring a weapon, then we will not treat you. Sometimes it is difficult, but most people now agree.”
The Nansen Refugee Award ceremony takes place on Oct. 1 in Geneva, and the winner will receive $150,000 to fund a project complementing their work.