Thailand agree to pay for athletes from poor countries

BANGKOK: Hosts Thailand will foot the bill for three cash-strapped countries to send teams to this week’s SEA Games, an official said yesterday.

Games organisers agreed to cover the expenses of Laos, Cambodia and East Timor, which are among the world’s poorest countries, after their hard-up Olympic committees asked for help.

We can do it: Thailand’s mountain bike team dragging their gear to the Athletes’ Village yesterday.

“Thailand wants unity at the SEA Games and since we have 11 member countries, we want all of them to be here,” Charoen Wattanasin, secretary of the organising committee, told Reuters.

“It’s important that everyone gets a chance to compete.”

East Timor, whose Olympic committee is beset by administrative and financial problems, will send only seven athletes to Korat, with Games organisers picking up the tab.

The teams from Laos and Cambodia will travel for hours along their notoriously pot-holed roads before being picked up at their borders by a fleet of Thai buses.

Charoen said accommodation and transport for the three countries’ athletes will also be provided.

The fiercely-contested SEA Games, which takes place every two years, officially open on Thursday, although the soccer and shooting events are already under way.

Some 5,000 athletes from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, Myanmar and the Philippines, will compete in 43 sports, with 475 gold medals up for grabs. – Reuters

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