Muay Thai boxer pushing the last olympic ring up the hill



Review by Terra Cotta

‘...You may not be that surprised by which two nations  are  striving to push Thai Boxing into the Games...’

What! Thai Boxing in the Olympic Games ? Never! That’s what many people would have said twenty years ago, including Thailand. But a decade past, two nations are pushing for its entry, and contrary to what most people may think, it appears that the sport Muay Thai (which is the sports correct name), may have a very good chance of getting there. Why all of a sudden does it appear to be on a slow but steady path towards its golden goal. "That’s simple!.." Said Khun Clint Heyliger, Executive Vice President of the USMTA. " It’s ready for the Games, in fact it’s been ready for nearly 20 years, and may have been ready since the 1950’s, but I think it was held back for a variety of reasons that could probably be argued about forever."

"My theory is that we had other things on our minds, like getting over the last World War, the political turmoil and turbulence in Asia , Indochina, Korea and Southeast Asia, including the entry of western powers into Asia during the mid 50’s and 60’s. The ‘Cold war’, the Kennedy's and King killings, and the unfortunate Pol Pot era. "

" If you add this with a misunderstanding and mistrust of the culture and peoples of S.E. Asia which was presented to ignorant and unknowing American and western audiences, presented by an incompetent and pragmatic media. Add this to an already jealous and biased martial art world who certainly did not’t want another upstart art that had grace, beauty and an undeniable ability to stand toe -to toe, against well known Asian martial arts entering the arena. To add fuel to the fire, many of those outspoken critics became the so-called experts of the art and were classified by themselves as well as the media, as the quote  'authorities on the sport of Thai Boxing' unquote.

Throw in a few more petty obstacles and I think it has effectively slowed down Muay Thai’s entry or at a minimum, an acceptance as an Olympic sport. That was up until now, 40 years later and the majority of people I have spoken to in the past decade have agreed that Muay Thai is very well equipped for the Olympic Games. And to place Muay Thai into the Olympics would take no serious changes or additions for its entry, unless you take into account the rituals that go along side the sport, such as the Ram Muay (ritual fighters dance); the wai Kru ( the paying of respect, to ones teacher, parents, and god) and the fight music that always accompanies each bout.

In this respect, many countries still continue to use the Ram Muay and homage ritual stating that ‘Muay Thai is not Muay Thai without it’. It receives just as much acclaim as the fighters themselves, with prizes and awards being presented to the best performances. There is an actual reduction in the apparel that a Thai fighter would compared to that of a western boxer. The boxing boots are removed in favor of the traditional Thai ankle sock, which has become so synonymous with Muay Thai. The western boxer style shorts are replaced by the familiar Vee shaped shorts of the Thai fighter, and the boxing waist/groin protector is reduced to the smaller groin protector so that the fighters can achieve the spectacular Thai high kicks.

The actual ring is no different than that of the today's western style boxing rings, therefore it would need no additions, and could easily follow right after the Olympic boxing bouts just by stepping into the same ring. Thai boxing officials are no different than those of western boxing accept of course, that refereeing differs some what. The fight rounds of the professional Thai fighter is only five three minute rounds and the Amateur rounds are three two minute rounds, therefore the bouts fit neatly into the Olympic criteria.

It is a fact that Amateur Muay Thai is on the rise throughout the world with the introduction of an acknowledged system produced in Britain, the United States, and Thailand where it had received the blessings of the Thai governments National Sports Authority. Even though this in it’s self does not reflect on any international organizations Amateur format, it does give credit to a system that has now been in activity for over four years.

In 1995 the IFMA (International Federation of Muay Associations) organized the activities of the sport in South East Asia, entering it into the Sea*Games or Asian Olympics for the first time. The  IFMA have the official Judge and Referee organization where it has instructed many of the international Thai boxing Community in art of correct judging and refereeing, in an attempt to professionals Amateur branch of  the sport, followed closely by The United States who formed the AMTJRA (American Muay Thai Judge and Referee Association) (American Muay Thai Judge and Referee Association) in 1992 and by Great Britain who officially opened the BAMTO (British Association of Muay Thai Officials) the same year, who have begun to organize the official European branch.

All this has shown that the sport has given birth to a new era of understanding and promotion, where it now holds ground at over 80 nations and countries on all five continents who regularly compete in World and International events. This by its self must stand as a testimony to the dedication and dogged determination of the few who have sacrificed and succeeded, usually under great pressure and personal expense, to see that Muay Thai is given its rightful place among the worlds recognized International sports, and not classified as just a sport from one nation.

As the major powerhouses of the sport have managed to indoctrinate a younger and more curious public with the true facts and disperse the fictions of Muay Thai, while at the same time correcting the media who have knowingly or unknowingly misled and misinterpreted the actions of the sport to an audience interested in martial arts and sports, addressing athletic bodies on the aspects of safety strongly adhered to within Muay Thai, when they themselves have been misinformed by characters who have never stepped into the ring or even taken a Judge and referee course for the sport.

With all this, the sport of Muay Thai has become one of the fastest growing ring sports within the past three decades, and it is estimated that in the amateur divisions alone, the USA who are classed as relative newcomers to the sport have well over 60'000 plus competitors, while in Europe where it has been in active since 1972, stems into the hundreds of thousands, and in the Middle East nations such as Iran, Egypt,  Israel, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, etc. it is becoming a booming industry.   It cannot be calculated on just how many amateurs are active in the sport in Asia, Africa, South America, Russia, the Pacific rim nations or the Caribbean basin, but it can safely be estimated that well over two million are actively participating in Muay Thai throughout the world. In Thailand, the birth of the sport with over two thousand training camps, they are still counting.

Why then has it taken so long for Muay Thai to receive a nod from the International Sports Authorities is a story of its own?. The basic problems appear to have been in the promotion of the sport out side of Thailand, and not in the actual competitiveness. In Thailand Muay Thai is revered as much as American Football  is to Americans, or Soccer is to Europeans and South Americans.

Thailand has only recently been active in the commercialization of their national sport on an International scale via media exposure where it has had an enormous impact on westerners eager to learn more about this devastating ring sport, where it has caused a large increase of trainers and martial art instructors flooding to Thailand for more knowledge. This in turn has also caused a large migration of retired Thai boxers emigrating to all corners of the globe to instruct those with a serious interest in the sport, helping to further promote the art and increase the purse of Thai fighters. Why are the Americans and British including several other countries so eager to see Muay Thai enter the Olympics?  Why not? Came the reply of British Thai Boxing Council Chairman Arjarn Tony Moore of Manchester, England., the Mecca of British Thai boxing.

"The Olympics has its origins in Greece where the idea of the Games was for young men to compete against each other to prove to himself and to others that he was the 'ultimate warrior' . What became known as the Javelin was once the spear, the discus, shot putt etc., also weapons. The young warriors had to show his 'supreme fitness' by being able throw the furthest and  to swim and run the fastest. Games of fighting such as wrestling, pugilism were also introduced. Therefore is it not appropriate that Muay Thai be recognized as it represents everything that the Olympics stood for? In fact would it not be fitting for Krabi Krabong (the Thai weapons system) also be introduced as an Olympic sport? "I think Muay Thai is perfectly adapted for this."

What will it need to give it that final push up the hill? "That's very simple", repeats Khun Clint Heyliger of the USMTA. "If Thailand and the rest of the world want to see Muay Thai enter the Olympics, or at least get Olympic recognition some time in the future, then they have to act now. There is already an established organization setup to take the next step forward. WAMTO (World Amateur Muay Thai Organization), was formed for the sole purpose to take Muay Thai into the Olympics. All Muay Thai groups or organizations etc., must join the WAMTO to become eligible for the sport of Muay Thai in their country to be recognized as an Olympic sport." 

WAMTO is the group that is in direct contact with International Olympic Committee and are sponsoring Muay Thai to receive recognition as an Olympic sport. Britain's BTBC and  America's USMTA including several other nations have already joined WAMTO making them the sole representatives for the sport in their countries when it finally receives the green light. Each organization requests for  its admission into WAMTO, thereby giving them sole representation of Muay Thai in their country, WAMTO will then process the paperwork and credentials etc., and present the whole package to the IOC.

"What's the next step?  "If you look at how many amateur s are competing around the world, and every amateur has a dream to be the best, to be the champ, each country wants to be seen as the best, and then you think of how much money could be generated by producing national Muay Thai competitions which in turn produce  national Thai Boxing Olympic teams. "What's the next step you ask? Why the Olympics Games in the next millennium of course!"

Can Muay Thai make it there? ...

"..If we Keep on pushing it up the hill.... it will.."

Copyright 1998 USMTA Inc. All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004.