This is the current kit of Ubon UMT United, the top team of Ubon Ratchathani in the Isan region of Eastern Thailand, currently playing in the Thai Premier League after achieving promotion last year. Note the solitary but thick black stripe on the left arm.
That is not just some cool asymmetrical design. That is a season-long tribute to the late King Abulyadej of Thailand.
Everywhere in the Footballing world, players usually don snug black arm bands for a game and stage remembrance minutes when a popular individual involved in the sport in some way passes away. Current players, former players, managerial staff, referees, commentators and pundits or fans. But this homage usually only lasts for a game. It isn’t repeated throughout the season and beyond. And it is almost never undertaken in honour of somebody not directly involved with either the team or the sport. So why manufacture a shirt for the entire season with a black stripe in memory of a monarch?
Because the Thai monarchy is of religious importance to Thai society. King Bhumibol Adulyadej died late in 2016 after being the longest serving Monarch in the entire world. The country declared 2 years of national mourning, which is visible throughout the country. His picture is displayed in public places frequently, black and white drapes are placed across public parks and visitors to governmental or royal edifices wear black head to foot.
This level of respect does not begin posthumously; the lese-majeste laws of Thailand famously forbid criticism of or open manifestation of disrespect to the ruling Monarch. Although these laws have been criticised by rights activists for their vague nature, very un-vague actions that will get you in trouble include press releases openly criticising the King and/ or his actions, and defacing currency, on which appears King Adulyadej’s face. Even without laws protecting the King’s dignity however, it appears that his legacy is a popular one among the Thai people, who remember him for his practical nature in dealing with economic issues faced by the poor of the country and are therefore very unlikely to want to tarnish his name anyway.
So much so that you will not go to a Thai league game this season or next without being reminded of his omnipresence in Thai society, both in the mind and in the streets. The Thai feel it necessary to take that extra step to show their respects to their former head of state on their sportswear.
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