It may be easy to overlook, as the new sports facility is located at Kathu Municipality School 2 on the southeast corner of Phuket Villa Kathu, but the B40 million baht may be well spent.
Phuket has long been missing such sports facilities as the island’s early tourism years saw people coming only to enjoy the beaches, island tours, hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, Thais came to the island to work, leaving very little time for sports after hours.
At one stage the only competitive football played in Phuket were one-off tournaments among hotels. Some might remember that the only sports field on the west coast was the football pitch opposite Loma Park, where if players weren’t feeling sore about losing, they certainly would be about the skin they lost while playing on that pitch.
Times have changed and a handful of decent community sports centres have mushroomed across the island, though regular people getting access to them has proved difficult.
While Phuket has previously hosted some serious sports events, including the Asean Beach Games in 2014 and the Thailand National Youth Games in 2012, the mainstay of even domestic sports tourism has been missing for one simple reason: the lack of facilities.
With the country slowly returning to normal, the return of domestic sports competitions throughout the country will return. Pre-pandemic, such competitions were being held all the time, with teams and supporters travelling to other provinces to compete in one sport or another, but not travelling to Phuket.
The Kathu Municipal Stadium bridges that gap. It can host events not austere enough to be held at Surakul Stadium, which has sat empty all throughout the pandemic, and provide a venue for interprovincial tournaments which are sure to return to their previous incessant, never-ending schedule.
Tourism officials are trying hard to promote sports to lure foreign tourists. The Asian Tour golf being played on the island is a big scalp, getting Phuket golf courses on screens abroad. Less so are the motor racing recently held at Saphan Hin and the powerboat race to be held off Karon – though that event is very much needed for that area in particular area. Kata-Karon needs all the help it can get.
Yet what they are missing are simple elements that allow people to enjoy their pastimes, and this is what people do when travelling today. They cycle, they surf, they hike. They do not come to just eat Thai food, as the current big tourism push is focussing on, they already know that when they book their holiday.
More needs to be done to cater to the “out and about” crowd. The cheap, simple development of safe hiking trails in the hills, the organisation of volleyball and football on the beaches, the marking of safe cycling routes across the island will all help add to that tipping point for tourists thinking about coming to Phuket.