Thai FA re-elects Somyot, declares media rights award

The Football Association of Thailand yesterday re-elected Somyot Poompanmuang as its president and said its global media rights for the 2021-28 period had been awarded, although did not reveal the winners.

Somyot defeated rival presidential candidate Pinyo Niroj, a Thai member of parliament, by 51 votes to 17 at a poll in Bangkok. His second term in office will cover 2020 to 2024.

The FAT said its media rights had been awarded to a consortium comprised of a Thai company and a foreign company, but would not reveal their identities due to a non-disclosure agreement. The parties have signed a ‘standstill agreement’ and are finalising a long-form agreement for the rights. The association said the value of the deal would be made public.

Fraught election

The presidential election was closely watched by international football officials, following agitation by former president Worawi Makudi.

The FAT had barred Worawi from taking part in the election, pointing to an ongoing court case the organisation is taking against him and his suspension from football by Fifa in 2015.

The SAT rejected a complaint lodged with it by Worawi against his election ban, saying the football association was entitled to make its own rules around its elections. Worawi had also lodged complaints with the SAT alleging malpractice by current FAT office-holders, the Bangkok Post said.

Fifa had earlier written to the football association warning that it would face sanction if there were any external influence on the elections, indicating that the SAT should stay clear of the vote. The Fifa letter, from chief member associations officer Veron Mosengo-Omba, said the organisation noted “with concern…alleged efforts to interfere in the electoral process”. It added: “Any violation to this obligation may lead to sanctions provided for in the Fifa Statutes, including a possible suspension.

“We [Fifa] encourage you [the FAT] to inform us immediately about any undue influence in the electoral process, in particular regarding any eventual further steps that the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) might take in this regard.”

The SAT responded to Fifa’s warning, saying Thailand’s “Sports Associations have a free hand in running their associations. There is no interference.”

After yesterday’s election, the Bangkok Post reported that Worawi told reporters: “The election was not fair and lacked transparency. It had a lot of problems.” Worawi claimed that several of the voters in the election were not eligible to vote and that he would be taking the matter to Thai courts and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He also made complaints in a letter handed to a Fifa official attending the election yesterday as an observer.

As well as representatives from Fifa, the election was observed by the Asian Football Confederation, the Asean Football Federation and the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT).

Somyot, a former Thai police chief, became president of the FAT in 2016, beating former national team coach Charnwit Phalajivin. The Bangkok Post reported that Phalajivin was believed to be a proxy for Worawi. Worawi had been president of the FAT from 2007 to 2015, but did not contest the 2016 election due to his Fifa ban.

Somyot oversaw a number of reforms during his first term in office, including clearing the organisation’s debt, building a new headquarters and increasing the number of coaches and referees in the country. He also oversaw the recent media rights auction, including the appointment of the Octagon sports marketing agency to run the sales process. The Bangkok Post reported that Somyot’s supporters include the powerful Thai clubs Chiang Rai United and Buriram United.

After his election yesterday, Somyot said: “The first four years was a difficult time. It was like we bought an old house and renovated it.

“We are determined to take Thai football forward. I have selected capable people to work with me. Although the task is not easy, we will work together. We need help from all parties, including football fans.”

Media rights award

The media rights award marks the end of a sales process that has been closely watched by the Southeast Asian sports industry and shrouded in mystery. The rights attracted interest from major international agencies as well as local media companies. The identities of the parties involved in the final stages of the negotiations, following the tender process that ran October to December, have been a closely-guarded secret.

The domestic rights are held in the current cycle, from 2017 to 2020, by pay-television broadcaster TrueVisions. True is thought to have bid to renew its rights, but is not thought to be the local company in the winning consortium for the new cycle.

The rights outside Thailand are held in the current cycle by the Lagardère Sports agency.

Among the international companies that bid for the rights in the new cycle was Eleven Sports, the international OTT and pay-television sports platform owned by former MP & Silva executive Andrea Radrizzani. Eleven does not currently have a platform in Thailand. OTT platform DAZN was also reported by local media to have shown interest in the rights.

It is a landmark deal for the FAT. It is seeking an eight-year media rights partnership for the first time, and also for the first time appointed an international agency to oversee the sales process – Octagon. The agency was assisted by local media rights experts Iqbal Maricar and Nick Wilkinson. The association is aiming to significantly increase its media rights income to more than $60m per year.

Other elections

At yesterday’s elections, five vice presidents were also appointed for 2020-24 – Mr Annop Singtoothong, Mr Suphasin Leelarit, Mrs Lakhanaanan Lakshmi Thananan, Miss Sirima Panichewa and Mr Adisak Benjasiriwan. And 13 members were elected to the association’s central committee – Yutana Yimkarun, Vice Admiral Nikol Intarasuwan, Mr Thawatsui Su, Mr Mittitiya Phairat, Mr Songkiat Lim-arunrak, Mr Somkiat Kittithornkul, Assoc. Prof. Dr Wichit Kanungsukkasem, Mr Thanawat Watchanikanchana, Miss Nanthanee Wongnanitkul, Mr Natthasut Munman, Mr Anusorn Wongwan, Mr Panuwat Sasomsub and Mr Boriphat Sommie.