The death of a 13-year-old boxer is spurring government efforts to make Thailand’s national sport safer for children, officials and boxing insiders said Wednesday.
Just last week a group of prominent Muay Thai fighters lobbied the government to axe a bill that would set the minimum age at 12 – a move they said would damage athlete development and make it harder for Thai boxers to compete internationally, according to The Nation.
The weekend death of teen boxer Anucha Tasako cast the issue in a new light.
Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand’s deputy prime minister and president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand, led a meeting Wednesday of government agencies involved with the sport to consider safety measures.
“The president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand has told the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to carefully consider the NLA-proposed bill to increase safety for boxers, the young ones in particular,” Prawit spokesman Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich told reporters.
The bill before Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) would ban boxers younger than 12 from competing in professional matches and set punishments for organizers who break that rule, officials said.
Other changes being considered include requiring head gear, elbow and knee pads be worn by boxers 15 and younger.
Muay Thai allows boxers to punch, kick, knee and elbow their opponents. Anucha, who died from a brain haemorrhage, was not wearing protective gear during his three-round charity bout in Samut Prakan province, southeast of Bangkok.
Damrong Tasako, Anucha’s uncle and trainer, spoke at the boy’s funeral on Tuesday.
“I would like the boxers younger than 15 or 12 to use protective gear to lessen the impact, like in the amateur Thai boxing,” Damrong told reporters. “For boxers 15 or older, they can fight without the protection.”
Muay Thai is hugely popular in Thailand and attracts boys in rural areas who seek to support their families.
Sukrit Praekreetawet, a lawyer associated with the sport, said Anucha’s death was unprecedented.
“To start younger helps career development. To start late will deter development and boxers would not be as good as the older generation,” Sukrit said. “Many boxing aficionados oppose the amendment.”
Child rights activists and doctors have argued in favour of the bill, saying punches and kicks can cause brain damage in young boxers and lead to neurological problems later in life, The Nation reported.