December 16 in annually observed in Thailand as National Sports Day (Wan Kila Haeng Chat — วันกีฬาแห่งชาติ) since 1986. This commemorates the gold medal won by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and share with his eldest daughter, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya (then aged 16), whom he tied in points in the OK dinghy class at the 4th Southeast Asian Games held in Bangkok from December 9-16, 1967. This was Thailand’s second time to host the biennial SEA Games which are under the regulation of the Southeast Asian Games Federation with supervision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia. At the 1967 Games, Thailand led the medal tally with a total of 165 (77 gold, 48 silver and 40 bronze).
The observance of National Sports Day supports the development of sports in the Kingdom and helps to inform public about the importance of sport for everyday life. People are encouraged to participate in different sports competitions and events. Numerous award presenting ceremonies of Thai athletes are organized each year on this day. Sports associations throughout the country organize exhibitions dedicated to sport and people enjoy watching games and performances.
King Bhumibol was an accomplished sailor and sailboat designer, accomplishments all the more remarkable given Bhumibol’s lack of binocular depth perception. His father having been a naval engineer in the military, he built his own boats from scratch, testing the finished items in the lake at Chitralada Palace. In his workshop, he painstakingly pieced together sailing dinghies for three different classes: international enterprise, international OK and international moth. His Majesty began work on his first boat, the enterprise class Rajptain, on December 7, 1964. After crafting it to international specifications, he raced it from Pattaya to Koh Larn against the Duke of Edinburgh during the British royal’s visit to Thailand in 1965. Construction of a second boat of the same class, AG, was begun on the same day.
Bhumibol built his first international OK-class boat, Navaruek, in 1965. Many more were to emerge from his workshop, including Vega 1, Vega 2 and Vega 3. The King quickly turned his attention to international moth-class boats, designing and constructing nimble dinghies he named Mod, Super Mod and Micro Mod in 1966 and 1967. His Majesty registered his design for Mod with the patent office in Britain.
On April 19, 1966, King Bhumibol sailed his single-handed OK dinghy Vega 1, which had a length of 13 feet (3.9 meters), from Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, traveling 60 nautical miles (110 kilometers) before arriving at Toey Ngam Beach in Sattahip, Chon Buri. The arduous journey across the Gulf of Thailand took an exhausting 17 hours. Just a year later, His Majesty won the gold medal for sailing at the fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (now called the SEA Games). The gold medal was presented by Her Majesty the Queen on December 16, 1967.
In recognition of the King’s enormous contribution to the development of sports in general, and his prowess as an enterprise and OK sailor, the International Olympic Committee presented the prestigious Insignia of the Olympic Order to Bhumibol on December 14, 1987. Although other monarchs — the King of Malaysia and King Olav of Norway — have been awarded the Olympic Medal of Honour, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej is the only reigning monarch to receive such an award.
At the time, Thais who had access to sailing were mostly officers in the Royal Thai Navy because of the steep costs involved. The playgrounds for sailing, therefore, were around the naval base at Sattahip Bay in Chon Buri. In order to turn sailing into a more exciting activity, local regattas began to be organized within the country. They gradually became international, with an increasing number of participants from several countries each year.
King Bhumibol was once again at the helm of his OK class dinghy in 1987, leading his own Royal Chitrlada Yacht Squadron in a regatta against the Royal Thai Navy and beating them soundly. In 1986, a group of Thailand’s yachting fraternity had gathered to discuss what they could do as a special tribute to His Majesty on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee birthday the following year on December 5. After considerable discussion, it was decided unanimously to organize a royal sailing competition in Phuket, the first ever held in the sparkling waters of the Andaman Sea.
The inaugural Phuket King’s Cup Regatta was held in 1987 by Royal Varuna sailors including Commodore Chris King, Dr. Rachot Kanjanavanit, Al Chandler, Adolph Knees and others. It was yachting and Phuket aficionado ML Tridosyuth Devakul, better known as renowned architect and developer Mom Tri, who placed the resources of his then recently opened Phuket Yacht Club Hotel at Nai Harn Bay in Phuket at the regatta organizers’ disposal. The regatta began with a mixture of keelboats, catamarans, lasers and even windsurfers. More recently the regatta has become a huge boating event, attracting keelboats and ocean-going catamaran teams from around the world.
His Majesty graciously donated the King’s Cup Trophy and is the Royal Patron of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta. The Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, which was established in 1964, was taken under His Majesty’s Royal Patronage on March 31, 1987.
The King had been interested in sports ever since he was young. He especially liked those sports that use not only power, but also technique, fast thinking, and delicacy to which he could apply his knowledge and ability. During his early years studying abroad, King Bhumibol enjoyed skiing, sailing, rowing, shooting, badminton, go-carts, mini-golf and exercise in terms of jogging, fast walking, and cycling. Throughout his lifetime, he aimed to spread the concept of “sports science” for use in everyday life and for the health of Thai people. He became known as His Majesty the Sportsman King.
Prior to the National Sports Day observance in 1988, King Bhumibol delivered the following proclamation at Chitralada Rahotan Palace on November 28:
“In principle, sport is something with the basic objective to strengthen the body, and we can display our sporting skills to show unity and improve our quality of life. At present, sports are also important in another sense, in terms of society, which is to make the people in the nation show more interest in doing activities that are useful for the health of body and mind. This allows us to be a society with peace and happiness, and also helps make the nation prosper. In particular, international sports also broaden our relationships with other human beings in other countries. Therefore, sports are very important for each person’s life and for the nation. If we practice sports in the right way, that is, efficiently, this can bring fame to yourself and your nation. If we practice sports with order and health, that can also make us famous, and furthermore will encourage unity in the nation.”
In recognition of His Majesty’s multifarious duties of national sports, including his ability in sports science, the 195th Meeting of the University Council of Mahidol University on May 15, 1991, made the unanimous decision to present him with an honorary doctorate degree in science, with a minor in sports science. The presentation to His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej was made on August 8, 1991, which again brought great joy to the Thai sports community and the public.
Scott #442 was issued on August 6, 1966, to mark the fifth Asian Games, also known as the V Asiad, held December 9 to 20, 1966, at the National Sports Complex in Bangkok. The 20-satang photogravure stamp — the lowest denomination in a set of eight — depicts bicycling, a popular pastime in Thailand with massive national biking events organized for the Queen’s Birthday (“Bike for Mom”) and the King’s Birthday (“Bike for Dad”) held in 2015 and 2016.
A total of 142 events in 14 sports were contested by athletes in the 1966 Asian Games. Taiwan and Israel returned to the Games, reversing the decision taken by Indonesia in the previous Asiad to debar the two countries. A total number of 2,500 athletes and officials, coming from 18 countries, were involved in this Asiad, where women’s volleyball made its debut.