Thai footballers, coach and rescue team

Week 247 (7 - 13 July 2018)

The world held its breath as two global events involving football took place at the same time. Whilst the FIFA World Cup was entertaining millions of fans in Russia, millions more celebrated as a young Thai football team emerged after 17 days trapped in a Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai.

Contained by a flash flood and with limited access to food, clean water and sunlight, 12 boys and their coach were forced to huddle together as a dedicated team of rescuers, including military personnel, scientists and professional divers worked around the clock amid fears of further monsoon flooding. The world’s media stationed themselves close to the mouth of the cave, constantly circulating updates to the general public transfixed through concern. Social media hashtags took over, allowing people to express messages of love and support, which were relayed to the team through written letters.

The boys, part of the Wild Boars football team, were aged 11-17 and had few supplies when they entered the cave, but worked together to keep each other’s morale up throughout their ordeal. Coach Ekapol Chantawong, a Buddhist monk for 10 years, was integral in teaching the boys meditation to reduce anxiety.

Over three days, people worldwide waited in suspense as the boys emerged four at a time, before coach Chantawong was rescued and a united world came together in celebration of an unbelievable feat.

Incredibly, all 13 members of the team were rescued despite the immense difficulty of navigating tight and dark, water-filled passages and the fact that some of the team couldn’t swim, let alone dive. Remaining calm throughout the rescue was key to the success of the operation and each of the boys showed immeasurable determination and resilience in the face of adversity.

Since their rescue, inspirational pictures of the team recovering in hospital have emerged, thumbs up and in good spirits. Their families have been able to visit and the incident has been lauded as a celebration of human perseverance and bravery.

Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy Seal, was the one and only casualty of this extraordinary rescue effort as he died in his endeavours to rescue the team, laying oxygen tanks along the two mile route in preparation for their escape. Kunan was given a royal-sponsored funeral and has been called a hero, alongside every other member of the Thai rescue team.   

The boys’ courage united the world and there have been offers from some of the biggest football teams in the world, including Manchester United and Barcelona, to visit the stadium and attend a game. Similar messages of support have also come from players at the World Cup, while FIFA also invited the team to watch the World Cup final live in Moscow.

Though not physically fit enough to fly to Russia, the incredible effort and co-operation from all involved, including the coach, who kept calm despite terrifying circumstances, have inspired people all over the world and will serve as an example of the importance of teamwork for years to come. Their strength of character and positivity throughout makes the Thai footballers, their coach and the rescue team JTA Communicator of the Week.  

Photo: Sky News