BANGKOK – Last month, Thailand sealed their place at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France with their best performance at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in over three decades. It was a remarkable achievement for the south-east Asian nation, who qualified for the global finals for a second successive edition.
Among those basking in the glow of this tremendous achievement is Rumpha Ploy Varaveerakul, the Thais’ general manager. “One of our goals was to qualify for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, which we duly achieved,” Varaveerakul told FIFA.com. “All the players performed very well throughout and the team lived up to the expectations.”
“They were particularly impressive against Australia,” she continued, citing a semi-final clash against the former Asian champions in which Thailand held their own throughout 120 minutes before losing on penalties. “We are now putting all of our efforts in preparing for the forthcoming Women’s World Cup. We hope to continue our good run and even improve our performances on the world stage.”
One of Asia’s pioneers in the women’s game, Thailand stormed to the final of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup four times in the tournament’s early years, winning the title in 1983. But their long anticipated breakthrough at World Cup level didn’t come until four years ago, when they qualified Canada 2015. Returning to the global stage in France 2019 is, says Varaveerakul, testament to the game’s development in Thailand.
“There are women playing football everywhere in my country,” she said. “There is little resistance in Thailand against women playing football. Our FA has noticed the increasing women’s football population and we will continue to develop the game by arranging more regional competitions through cooperation with local FAs, regional governments and sports schools.”
As in many other countries, though, the women’s game in Thailand does difficulties in attracting funding. Improving that situation forms part of Varaveerakul’s job description. “I’ve been working in Thai FA for two years and I have seen how our teams struggle,” she said. “We are working hard to gain more support for the women’s game.
“The challenge is to attract sponsors. The women’s game is not yet as popular as the men’s game and most women players are not very famous. But we are working closely with our marketing colleagues to get sponsorship for our women’s league, which was launched last year. This year would see the launch of another league-the U-18 women’s league. Things will get better.”
The Football Association of Thailand are also aware that internal improvements are required to further develop the women’s game. With that in mind, Varaveerakul was sent to Zurich in March of this year, when she spent two weeks working with FIFA’s Women’s Football Department. That short internship proved invaluable in raising her work to new levels.
“My aims were to learn how FIFA is organising women’s football events as well as FIFA’s goals when it comes to women’s football development. Both are key in terms of our future development. All the people (in FIFA) were friendly and helpful to me and everyone was open and pleased to answer my questions. In addition, they have told me to stay in contact and let them know whenever we have questions.”
It proved a fruitful apprenticeship. And with a Women’s World Cup now to plan for, Varaveerakul is confident the knowhow she has gathered will make a positive impact on her work. “This opportunity was very useful for me to learn ideas and knowledge, which will help with our long-term plans. The experiences will definitely help make our women’s football go in the right direction. I am clear that our women’s game will enjoy a bright future.”
Thailand’s results at the 2018 AFC Asian Cup:
Group stage: China 4-0 Thailand; Thailand 6-1 Jordan; Thailand 3-1 Philippines
Semi-final: Australia 2–2 (a.e.t.) 3-1 PSO Thailand
Third-place playoff: China PR 3-1 Thailand