Whether it be football, cricket or Thai boxing, anyone in the know about sports in general will automatically tell you without hesitation that the future of any chosen sport lies with the children who participate.
That is truly where it all begins. In fact, take a look at any particularly successful sport in any given country and it won’t take long to realise that its roots lie behind the strong amateur base that has been set up – in some cases called academies – where children start playing at very young ages to learn technique and form, highly critical towards future development.
The Chiang Mai Schools Cricket Alliance (CMSCA) is very aware of this, and to that end it has chosen to work hand in hand with organisers of the upcoming 31st annual Chiang Mai International Cricket Sixes tournament scheduled to take place at the 120 year old Gymkhana sports club from April 1st to 6th.
It’s the largest and oldest amateur cricket sixes tournament in the world.
Although the obvious aim of the tournament is to provide both highly competitive and less serious cricket games to its spectators – all of whom can then join the players at night to meet up with old and new friends while enjoying the expansive night life of Chiang Mai – its actual mantra is far different.
That theme is to support, help develop and promote amateur cricket within and around Chiang Mai.
“Without this tournament junior cricket and the CMSCA just wouldn’t exist,” said Martin Papworth, chairman of the CMSCA and tournament director. “The majority of our CMSCA funds come through money raised at this tournament. A large portion of the tourney’s surplus is actually funnelled into junior cricket development while the rest goes for grounds fees. It’s done through entry fees, bar sales etc.”
Papworth, a native of England who has been living in Chiang Mai for 15 years who works diligently on preparing the grounds, said normally about 150,000 baht (30 per cent of the surplus) is raised each year for junior cricket through the tourney, whose ties with junior cricket development began 20 years ago. That was when the CMSCA was created and an actual junior cricket tournament was started and linked to the main event.
“Unfortunately this year’s junior tournament, which was slated for the first week of March, was cancelled due to the quality of air in Chiang Mai,” Papworth added. “We felt it was just too hazardous for the kids whose lungs are still developing. As a result, the junior tourney has been rescheduled for the last week of May when the air is fresher and the kids are back in school. Normally we would get about 140 kids, 14 teams and four pitches for the junior tournament which has been played at Prem School for the past six years. We feed the kids give them all medals and T-shirts. It’s a great annual tournament.”
Among those children who have benefited greatly from the sixes tournament are those from the hill tribe community, including the Hmong, for which the Hill Tribe Fund was set up in 2010. Many were plucked from a Chiang Mai orphanage and the success rate has been tremendous. Numerous hill tribe children have not only learned to become adept at cricket, but have gone on to play for Thailand at the national level.
One of the greatest hill tribe community junior cricket success stories of has been Chanchai, who at 20 years old is considered the top cricket player in the country. According to Papworth, the aim is to try and convince Chanchai to go abroad to live and continue developing his cricket skills at an academy.
“We find the hill tribe kids have a better aptitude towards cricket than Thais themselves,” said Papworth. “They’re a lot stronger, quicker and keener on the game. We’ve had some great success stories over the years, the best obviously being Chanchai.”
One person who has continued to support and understand the importance of developing junior cricket in Chiang Mai has been Sandy Cullen, a Chiang Mai resident and a representative of the U.N. Irish Pub team entered in this year’s tournament. Cullen stressed without hesitation how important the connection between supporting sporting teams and events – including junior cricket – in Chiang Mai has always been to the U.N. Irish pub.
“I along with others at the U.N. Irish pub have enjoyed attending junior cricket in Chiang Mai in the past and particularly when international teams have been participating,” he said. “As a kid growing up I myself was lucky enough to be in a part of the world where junior sport was actively promoted in schools and supported by the local communities. Organised sport was seen as beneficial to all aspects of youth development, regardless of individual ability.
Participation, fun and health were the main aims.
“Junior cricket in Chiang Mai assists in this process in Thailand, and has a very committed core group of people at its centre. It, like all other sports here and elsewhere, needs continued financial and community support if it is to continue and develop further.”
To that end one of the upcoming tourney’s sponsors includes Flight of the Gibbon, whose marketing director Dan Wallace said remains committed to helping the Hill Tribe Kids.
“Flight of the Gibbon has chosen to support this event because we believe such events are not only important to raising the profile of Chiang Mai, but also to encourage an active, healthy lifestyle to those participating as well as a chance to meet new friends from around the world. The Hill Tribe Fund also resonates with Flight of the Gibbon’s own underprivileged children projects in providing those less fortunate a chance of a better standard of life,” he said.
For more information on the upcoming international sixes tournament, go to www.chiangmaisixes.cricket.