Mr David Borja, Senior Manager of FIFA's Development Programmes Asia, along with Mr Domeka Garamendi, FIFA Development Officer from the organization's Development Office in Kuala Lumpur, were welcomed at Phuket International Airport by Phuket FC Vice President and Kata Group executive, Mr Eam Thavornwongvongse, as well as Dr Kasom Chanawongse from the Executive Board of the Football Association of Thailand, and Mr Paitoon Chutimakornkul, President of Siam Sport Syndicate Pcl.
The party's first stop this morning was at Wat Tha Noon temple, just north of Sarasin Bridge in Phang Nga, to meet Jao Pok, the temple's abbot and a famous monk across Thailand, also known as Luang Por Luke Nung – the Football Monk.
Over the years, Jao Pok has done commendable community service work for troubled youth in both Phuket and Phang Nga, taking in impoverished pupils – from both Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds – from off the streets, teaching them “Life Skills” using the beautiful game of football as a medium.
His story was recently published in the FIFA Weekly online magazine (click here to read).
In addition to organizing and supporting football competitions throughout the world, the supreme governing body of the most popular sport also supports various social responsibility and sports development programmes worldwide.
Under its Goal Programme, between 2003 and 2010, FIFA contributed US$1.8 million to Thailand, for various projects at the national technical centre in Bangkok.
Here in Phuket, the federation donated just over $1 million to construct the Tsunami Memorial Football Centre, which was inaugurated on September 15, 2009.
The centre, located off Sakdidet Rd en route to Cape Panwa, was the next stop of the tour today.
“As the centre is approaching its five year anniversary, we've come to inspect the facilities, and discuss with local officials various matters – how it's being used, its overheads and things it needs,” Mr Borja told the Phuket News during closed-door talks in the 2nd floor meeting room.
“For one, we can see that the pitch will definitely need to be renovated soon,” he added, as local youth from the Sansiri Academy trained on the muddy and waterlogged pitch below.
In addition to hosting training sessions for local football academies, the centre has also been used for training by Phuket FC, youth football squads from various local schools, and has even been utilized to host youth drug rehabilitation programmes in conjunction with the local government.
“It's good to see the centre is being used to benefit the local community … With football, people the world over are mostly concerned with scandals and superstars, but there is another, more important side to the game, and that's why we're really here,” he said.
Just as Mr Garamendi and Mr Borja depart Phuket tomorrow, the Myanmar U-23 National Squad are due to arrive on the island, ahead of their friendly, regional rivalry match with Thailand on Sunday (August 31).
Though a large crowd is expected to turn up, it remains to be seen whether there will be more spectators cheering on the visitors, considering there are more than 100,000 migrant workers from Myamar estimated to be living in Phuket.
The Thailand U-23 squad, led by former national player, Police Lieutenant Kiatisuk "Zico" Senamuang, arrived in Phuket on Wednesday to train for the 2014 Asian Games, to be held in South Korea next month.
The War Elephants, staying and training at British International School Phuket in Koh Kaew, are also set to play Phuket FC on Wednesday (September 3) and will conclude their island visit with one more international friendly, on Sunday (September 7) against Qatar.
All matches, to be held at the 15,000-capacity Surakul Stadium, will kick off at 6:30pm. Tickets are B200.
Thailand (Mens) are in group E with Timore Leste, the Maldives and Indonesia, with their initial matches to take place from September 15-22.