Thailand’s inmates fight for glory in prison muay Thai championship

Bangkok, Aug 11 (EFE).- Under the watchful eyes of coaches, peers and relatives, 20 boxers prepare to enter the ring. It would be just another competition if it weren’t for one detail: the central figures of this fight are inmates of a prison in Thailand who have found their future in muay Thai.

Inside the walls of Nonthaburi Prison, in the Bangkok metropolitan region, about 13 of the fighters are prisoners participating in the “Continuing Muay Thai Skills” program, which helps inmates with social rehabilitation through sport, and this month prepares them to fight at a tournament organized in honor of Thai Mother’s Day.

The program, launched in 2021 but suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was founded by prison director Preethida Somchit to promote health, discipline and harmony in the jail.

With an extensive training routine, six hours a day, six days a week, the project also provides inmates with a promising future outside of prison, either as professional muay Thai fighters or coaches.

“Prisoners are taught skills and knowledge of muay Thai so that they can have a career after their sentence. The objective of the program is to create careers,” Ayuth Sintoppant, Corrections Department director general, told EFE in an interview.

This is because Thailand is considered the cradle of muay Thai, one of the deadliest martial arts in the world, and also known as the fight of the eight limbs, since the knees and elbows are used in combat in addition to the feet and fists.

Each year, tens of thousands of people flock to the country to participate in or attend a myriad of regional, national, and international competitions.

Now, thanks to this project, which has the support of various professional Thai boxing gyms, Nonthaburi Prison has also become the main stage for various competitions.

“I am very satisfied with the project, because it allows prisoners to make a good career. And it also helps the society to reduce the stigma towards them and forgive their past,” Sintoppant said.

Similar to other prisons in Thailand, which has one of the largest inmate populations in the world at about 270,000, the majority of those detained in Nonthaburi Prison are there on drug-related offenses.

Therefore, muay Thai is presented as the hope for inmates to rebuild their future once they are outside the bars, since they receive training from professional boxers and participate in various tournaments throughout the year.

Due to Covid-19, the competitions were temporarily suspended, so fights in the arenas of this prison were only resumed Jun. 4, with a contest that had 18 competitors.

On one side, six inmates, an ex-prisoner, a foreigner and a Thai national took over the red corner of the ring and were ready to face the team on the blue side, made up of boxers from one of the gyms participating in the project.

In the stands, they were followed closely by the eyes of their mothers, who are authorized to speak with their children before they get into the ring and to attend the matches, broadcast live on Facebook and accompanied by other inmates.

“Inmates can even train to compete in the World Championship once they finish their sentences, as we have seen with other participants in the project,” Sintoppant said.

“They are good examples to be followed by current prisoners who seek to be good people,” he said. EFE


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