THAILAND - Thailand has been left stunned and embarrassed by the scenes posted on Youtube showing badminton player Bodin Issara chasing and physically assaulting his former partner Maneepong Jongjit in front of a shocked crowd at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver.
The men's doubles final of the Canadian Open degenerated into one of the most violent incidents ever seen on the international badminton circuit and ended with Bodin needing two stitches to his right ear, and Maneepong nursing bruises. But the damage done to the Kingdom's image on the international stage was far greater.
A fresh clip on Youtube shows Bodin exchanging words with Maneepong during a changeover after the first game, which was won by Maneepong and Nipitphon Puangpuapech. Bodin then launched into his attack, but was hit across the ear by the flailing racquet of Maneepong as he tried to escape. His ear cut and bleeding, Bodin then caught Maneepong and began punching and kicking him as he lay on the floor.
The incident was made all the more shocking by the fact that the two players involved were good friends who a year ago were being touted as future hopes of Thai doubles badminton.
Just 12 months ago, Bodin and Maneepong captured fans' hearts with their extraordinary performance at the London Olympics. They had left Bangkok as little-known players but suddenly gained a global reputation with a sensational 21-5 21-14 upset win against world No 4 duo Hyun Ko-sung and Seong Yoo-yeon of South Korea in the group stage. They went on to lose in the quarter-finals, but were given a hero's welcome on their return home from London. As a pair, they also reached their highest ranking of world No 7.
Their bond seemed just as strong when they stormed to the Sunrise Vietnam Open title in August, their second of the season after the Sunrise Open in India in April.
But late last year, Bodin, who is married and has a young daughter, felt he needed more income to support his family. He made the decision to break with the Badminton Association of Thailand (BAT) and seek his own sponsorship. Convinced that Maneepong would follow him, Bodin was hurt to find out that his partner refused to leave the association. That meant an end to their on-court pairing, and Bodin found a new partner in Pakkawat Vilailak while Maneepong teamed up with Nipitphon. From then on, the rift between the old team-mates grew.
The BAT-supported Maneepong has been sent to play more international events, while Bodin and his new partner have seen less action on the international stage, leading to greater estrangement. And off the court, it has been easier for the old allies to avoid walking the same path or hanging out with the same group.
All that changed on Sunday, when they were forced to confront each other on opposite sides of the net. The inevitable tension was aggravated by the intensity of the game, and it finally led to an unfortunate incident.
Bodin and Maneepong are due back in Thailand tonight, but an investigation into their clash by the World Badminton Federation is already underway. World badminton's governing body has never before handed a lifetime ban to a player, but this ultimate penalty may well be waiting for whoever is found guilty of this incident.
Although we all expect Bodin and Maneepong to put the past behind them and make peace with each other, the damage has already been done. But the country's sporting scene can learn a valuable if hard-earned lesson from the incident. Perhaps it's time that the idea of sportsmanship, rather than financial gain, was more firmly planted in the heads of young athletes.