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Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu

Gambling, Scoring and Refereeing in Thailand - Ongoing News on the Shape of Muay Thai

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There has been repeated criticism, for years really, about the outcome of fights in the main stadia of Bangkok: Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, Omoi, and Channel 7. Everything is usually brought into shorthand as being sullied by "gambling" and those betting on fights having too much influence over the wins and losses. Sometimes it is pretty blatant; sometimes I don't see why there's an argument, other than maybe from people who lost money themselves. 

That argument isn't particularly interesting in that it will always be present, always has been present, and isn't particularly fixable. What is interesting is that there are a few strings that attach to this criticism that make it "modern" rather than just the same old squeak on the same old wheel. Firstly, gambling is under serious attack ever since the first wave of Covid in March of last year. You can hear me and Kevin discuss this a bit in our newest Muay Thai Bones episode, but the first big "cluster" of Covid in Thailand stemmed from an event at Lumpinee and was blamed on gamblers. As a result, as Thailand has employed shutdowns and soft re-openings to deal with the pandemic, Muay Thai has been hard-hit by the restrictions and the start-and-stop approach to promotions has made promoters very sensitive, very eager to obey rules and regulations, and Lumpinee's head "Big Dang," has gone hard after the aim of eliminating gambling from Muay Thai shows at all. More established promotions like Petchyindee, Giatpetch, Chefboontham, Omnoi and Channel 7 have not aligned their voices to this aim of eliminating gambling, but they have enforced rules at their promotions (most of which are taking place outside of Bangkok, whereas normally they all would be within Bangkok) which limit the number of audience members permitted to attend the live shows. This is meant to be a measure to reduce public contact, but it's also painted as a means to control gambling as well. (The audience is mainly comprised of gamblers, anywhere.)

This is a piece of news in the form of an announcement from Sia Boat, the head of Petchyindee Academy and co-head of the Petchyindee promotions (his father made the name as one of the major promoters in the Golden Age and is probably the biggest promotion now, alongside Giatpetch, who also goes back to the Golden Age but at Channel 7, not Lumpinee and Rajadamnern). Sia Boat basically took the helm when Covid locked down Muay Thai last year. He is very famous, his family is very wealthy, and as legacy promoters he has a lot of authority beyond his age (early 30s). He acts as an ambassador between the "Muay Thai community," which is gyms, fighters, promoters... everyone who makes Muay Thai actually happen... and the Sport Authority of Thailand, which is government power making decisions but not necessarily making any of the wheels actually turn. Sia Boat proposed that a way to solve the criticisms of corruption in Muay Thai is to codify and make uniform scoring and refereeing across all stadia. This is something that Muay Thai fans outside of Thailand may not be aware of, that there are codified rules - like no plowing, what's a foul, the rule that a referee who suspects a fight is being thrown can stop a fight on those grounds and send both fighters out of the ring, etc. A recent discussion is about referees stopping a fight if the fighters are not engaging enough in rounds 1-4, for example, which has recently gone into effect. But the scoring between stadia is recognized and known among Thai fighters, gyms, trainers, cornermen, etc. And it's been this way for a long time. It's not written out, it's just tendencies because referees and judges don't tend to cross between the main venues, just like fighters didn't cross between promoters in the Golden Age, or very much now. 

Arjan Surat once explained to me and Kevin that Rajadamnern favored fighters who demonstrate technique, whereas Lumpinee favors fighters who "dern" or are more forward in their fights. So, a fighter like Silapathai would do great at Rajadamnern and maybe struggle a bit in Lumpinee, against the same opponent and fighting the exact same way, simply due to how those judges and referees look at a fight. In this recent rule change about fighters being warned and then thrown out of the ring if they don't engage, the venue most affected by this standardization of governing fights mostly affects Channel 7. There were meetings held about whether they need to fire all their officials, referees and judges in order to elimitate corrupt players, but ultimately this "engagement" rule has thrown that possibility into the future. Sia Boat's proposal to the Sport Authority of Thailand has been accepted by the head of that committee, although what it will entail remains to be announced and or seen.

Personally, I think it's a dubious card on the table. If they make their standards in line with the Muay Thai that's fun to watch, in line with traditional practices and scoring, maintaining "Thai" Muay Thai, it's great. If they standardize it more toward the "international" and "entertainment" models, it's terrible.



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