Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

Coach Somsak Deerujijaroen watches a video of thirteen-year-old Muay Thai boxer Anucha Tasako, taken during his final bout. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

  • Centuries-old Muay Thai is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride
  • New research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries

BANGKOK: Thousands of child boxers compete in Thailand’s traditional martial art with dreams of belts, glory and prize money — but the death of a 13-year-old has lit up a sensitive debate over whether competitors start too young.
Centuries-old Muay Thai — known as the art of eight limbs for the different ways opponents can strike each other with knees, fists, kicks, and elbows — is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride.
But new research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries.
Lawmakers under the country’s military leaders have also drafted revamped legislation that would bar children under 12 from competing in the contact sport.
The push has gathered new momentum in light of the death of 13-year-old Anucha Tasako, who died from a brain hemorrhage after his similarly aged opponent struck him with multiple blows to the head at a Saturday charity fight near Bangkok.
Anger erupted on social media where footage of the critical moments of the bout was uploaded.
Deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan instructed the sports ministry to review the legislation, which also requires parental consent for those between 12 and 15 and “physical safety measures.”
“The competitions must have appropriate, protective gear from the arena manager,” Prawit said according to a spokesperson.
It is common for Muay Thai fighters to start young and Anucha embarked on his career when he was eight years old.
He grew up in the northeastern province of Kalasin and after his parents parted ways, he spent time with a relative who had a Muay Thai gym.
Gripped by the sport, Anucha moved to Bangkok to stay with an uncle and train.
By the time he got to the charity match in Samut Prakan on Saturday he had fought 170 times, according to local media reports.
Critics point to alleged child exploitation as gamblers bet on bouts or promoters shave off prize money.
But it is the unseen health consequences that have received the most attention.
A five-year study from 2012 by the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Center at Ramathibodi Hospital carried out MRI scans on the brains of 335 child boxers and compared them with 252 non-boxers of the same ages.
Hospital director Adisak Plitponkarnpim said it was “clear” that child boxers suffered more brain cell damage and ruptures, and also had lower IQs.
“Their young age increases the damage because their skull and muscles are not yet fully developed.”
He said that accumulative injuries could put them at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as adults.
Coaches, gym owners and older fighters have mixed feelings about the draft legislation.
Thailand’s champions who have climbed out of Muay Thai and into success in western boxing circles also honed their skills as youngsters.
Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC minimumweight champion who surpassed Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record this year, moved to Bangkok at age 12 to train.
Tawee Umpornmaha also started fighting at 12 and went on to win a 1985 Olympic silver medal.
Some also feel the discussion around Muay Thai unfairly stigmatizes a sport that is easier to access for the South East Asian nation’s impoverished youth than more expensive sports such golf or tennis.
“For a lot of children, Muay Thai is a path out of poverty,” said a Muay Thai gym owner who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Besides giving children a sense of purpose, the owner said it also offers them “the chance to dream of a future far beyond the sport.”
The tensions are embodied in Anucha’s coach, Somsak Deerujijaroen, who runs a gym and trains his son.
“If the laws fully prevent child boxing, Thailand will not have Muay Thai masters. It will be the end of it. We will pass on the championships to foreigners,” he said at the funeral for Anucha, adding that rules on protective headgear for youth made more sense.
But he feels conflicted after the incident on Saturday and blames himself.
“I don’t want do the boxing gym anymore,” Somsak said, standing near Anucha’s coffin, where the young boxer’s favorite black-and-red boxing shorts were slung over a chair.
“One of my own kids who is eight years old has also been trained. But after this, I don’t want him to do it anymore.”


Venezuela ‘on alert,’ closes Curacao border ahead of aid shipment

Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, February 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 min 26 sec ago
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Venezuela ‘on alert,’ closes Curacao border ahead of aid shipment

  • Despite sitting on the world’s biggest oil reserves, Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, with a shortage of food and medicine

CARACAS: Venezuela’s military said Tuesday it was on “alert” at its frontiers following threats by US President Donald Trump and ordered its border with Curacao closed ahead of a planned aid shipment.
Opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido vowed to bring aid in from various points Saturday “one way or another” despite military efforts to block it.
But commanders doubled down on their allegiance to President Nicolas Maduro after Trump warned them to abandon him.
“The armed forces will remain deployed and on alert along the borders... to avoid any violations of territorial integrity,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.
Regional commander Vladimir Quintero later confirmed media reports that Venezuela had ordered the suspension of air and sea links with Curacao and the neighboring Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba and Bonaire.
Shipments of food and medicine for Venezuelans suffering in the country’s economic crisis have become a focus of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.
Aid is being stored in Colombia near the Venezuelan border and Guaido aims also to bring in consignments via Brazil and Curacao.
A Brazilian presidential spokesman said the country was cooperating with the United States to supply aid to Venezuela but would leave it to Venezuelans to take the goods over the border.
Maduro says the aid plan is a smokescreen for a US invasion. He blames US sanctions and “economic war” for Venezuela’s crisis.

Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of the Venezuelan legislature, has appealed to military leaders to switch allegiance to him and let the aid through.
He has offered military commanders an amnesty if they abandon Maduro.
But the military high command has so far maintained its public backing for Maduro — seen as key to keeping him in power.
“We reiterate unrestrictedly our obedience, subordination and loyalty” to Maduro, Padrino said.
Guaido posted a series of tweets calling by name on senior military leaders commanding border posts to abandon Maduro.
He has branded Maduro illegitimate, saying the elections that returned the socialist leader to power last year were fixed.
The United States and some 50 other countries back Guaido as interim president.
Trump has refused to rule out US military action in Venezuela. He raised the pressure on Monday, issuing a warning to the Venezuelan military.
He told them that if they continue to support Maduro, “you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.”
Padrino rejected Trump’s threat, branding the US president “arrogant.”
If foreign powers try to help install a new government by force, they will have to do so “over our dead bodies,” Padrino said.

Despite sitting on the world’s biggest oil reserves, Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, with a shortage of food and medicine.
It has suffered four years of recession marked by hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund says will reach 10 million percent this year.
An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015.
Guaido says 300,000 people face death without the aid but Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis.
Padrino said the military would not be “blackmailed” by “a pack of lies and manipulations.”
Maduro said that 300 tons of Russian aid would reach Venezuela on Wednesday. He previously announced the arrival of goods from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies.
In a series of tweets, Guaido urged supporters to write to the generals “from the heart, with arguments, without violence, without insults,” to win them over.

Guaido says he has enlisted the support of 700,000 people to help bring in the aid on Saturday and is aiming for a million in total.
He thanked Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain for pledging “more than $18 million for the humanitarian aid.”
British entrepreneur Richard Branson said he will hold a pro-aid concert just over the border in Colombia on Friday.
British rock star Peter Gabriel and Colombian pop singer Carlos Vives are among those scheduled to perform.
Former Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters weighed in on Maduro’s side in a video broadcast on Venezuelan state media, criticizing Branson and Gabriel and said the aid was being politicized.
Maduro’s government plans to stage a rival concert on its side of the border.