State­less foot­ball coach an un­likely hero of cave drama

The New Paper - - NEWS -

MAE SAI, THAI­LAND Hero foot­ball coach Ekkapol Chanta­wong is one of sev­eral state­less mem­bers of the Wild Boars, a team whose sur­vival after days trapped in a flooded Thai cave fix­ated a coun­try that does not recog­nise them as cit­i­zens.

Coach Ek, the 25-year-old who was among the last to emerge from the cave on Tues­day, has been lauded for keep­ing the young foot­ballers – aged 11-16 – calm as star­va­tion loomed in the dark.

He was the only adult with the boys when they en­tered the cave on June 23 un­til they were found nine days later by Bri­tish divers on a muddy bank deep in­side the cave com­plex.

As he awaited his turn to un­der­take the dan­ger­ous exit from the Tham Luang com­plex, Thais on the out­side cel­e­brated him as a mod­est, de­vout and duty-bound mem­ber of the Mae Sai com­mu­nity.

“From all the par­ents, please take care of all the chil­dren. Don’t blame your­self,” said a let­ter to him from the boys’ rel­a­tives re­leased July 7.

In re­ply, he scrawled a note apol­o­gis­ing to the par­ents, and vow­ing to take “the very best care of the kids.”

The touch­ing note won the hearts of the Thai pub­lic – a group to which he is yet to of­fi­cially be­long.

Thai­land is home to around 480,000 state­less peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to UN fig­ures.

Many are from no­madic hill tribes and other eth­nic groups who have for cen­turies lived around Mae Sai, the heart of theGolden Tri­an­gle, a law­less wedge of land at the bor­ders of Thai­land, Myan­mar and Laos.

Founder of the Wild Boars club Nop­pa­rat Khan­thavong told AFP that among the state­less are Ek and three of the boys who were trapped in the cave along with him – Dul, Mark and Tee.– AFP

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