Thaksin Shinawatra, Man City and Politics in Thailand

Thaksin ShinawatraWar criminals, oligarchs, human rights abusers — oh, the joy of covering British football.

We covered the first at Celtic earlier today, I promise we’ll get to Arsenal’s Usmanov again soon as promised, but let’s look first at the latter as an interesting article has popped up about Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the Guardian, Richard Williams argues that Sven-Goran Eriksson’s acquisition of three Thais this week represents the bubbling to the surface of the agenda behind Shinawatra’s purchase of Man City.

Shinawatra, accused by Amnesty International of being a a “human rights abuser of the worst kind”, is according to Williams using City to play his way back into Thai politics, where the military junta still has him under indictment for corruption.

Whilst Shinawatra has made much of the undremocratic nature of the current leadership, his own rule was severely compromised morally itself (see this letter from Amnesty International to Shinawatra expressing concern over “excessive force against demonstrators; torture of detainees; and the impunity enjoyed by state officials for alleged human rights violations in Thailand”). Therefore, it is rather depressing to see football used to assist Shinawatra’s efforts to regain power.

Democratic elections are promised for next month, and Eriksson’s trip has been widely seen as part of Thaksin’s attempt to renew his popularity within the country. Unable to stand for election while facing charges of financial impropriety, he is believed to have been financing the campaign of the People Power Party, and his successful takeover of City has kept his profile high with Thailand’s millions of Premier League fans. The recruitment of the trio of Thai international players – Suree Sukha, a right-back, Kiatprawut Saiwaeo, a centre-back, and Teerasilp Dangda, a striker – is being seen in the same light. Should his party succeed in the polls, the charges against Thaksin would be dropped and the way cleared for his return.

“I’m glad democracy is returning to Thailand and it’s a pity that I couldn’t be there,” Thaksin said in the video message. “My aims are to make a good reputation for Thailand, both in managing the club and creating new talented players.” Plans were also announced for City to set up a football academy in Bangkok.

In between autographing City shirts which had been handed to guests by Thaksin’s daughters, Eriksson said the signings were not a direct order from City’s new owner. “We’re a football team, and the players are footballers. We never discuss politics,” he said. He added that he expected Sukha to appear in City’s first-team squad next year while the other two would be sent to feeder clubs, probably in Belgium and Switzerland, to await work permits.

“We know this is political, but that is not the only reason,” the head coach of the Thai national team, Charnwit Polcheewin, remarked with disarming honesty. Well, presumably the three new signings can actually play football. But the primary purpose of the transfers is as plain as the nose on Eriksson’s face, and it makes a mockery of everyone, from Richard Scudamore to David Dein, who tries to pretend that the Premier League’s new foreign owners are motivated solely by a lifelong love affair with English football – and also, incidentally, of anyone who believes that the wholesale influx of foreign players is not hampering the opportunities for young English footballers.

I don’t think it matters that Shinawatra is foreign in itself, and the last part is something we do believe (as we’ve argued recently) though if this insidious affair reaches the stage that Micah Richards is dropped just so that Suree Sukha can get a game in time for the Thai elections, maybe we’ll hear more protest from City fans over their ownership.

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