Child kickboxing debated in Thailand after 13-year-old dies

KAWEEWIT KAEWJINDA and TASSANEE VEJPONGSA (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- The death of a 13-year-old boy who was knocked out during a kickboxing match in Thailand has sparked debate over whether to ban matches involving children.

The death of Anucha Tasako came after a Muay Thai - Thai boxing - match Saturday in the Bangkok suburb of Samut Prakarn. The Facebook page Muaythai Krobwongjorn, which covers the sport, said he died from a brain hemorrhage. Protective gear is normally not worn in the sport, and video circulated on social media said to be of the fight shows Anucha not wearing any.

Child boxing is widespread in Thailand, especially in rural areas, where it offers a way for children to help provide for their families and a path to lift them out of poverty, according to its advocates. Opponents say the sport is dangerous, citing studies such as one published last month by Thailand's Mahidol University saying that allowing children under 15 to box could result in various types of brain damage.

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Thai lawmakers are considering legislation proposed last month banning children under 12 from competitive boxing. The legislation has been forwarded to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, which has already drafted a revised version, said Gen. Aduldej Intapong, a member of the National Legislative Assembly.

Kickboxing is one of the most popular sports in Thailand and its boosters oppose regulating it.

''This would have a major impact on the industry,'' Sukrit Parekrithawet, a lawyer who represents several boxing training camps, said of the proposed legislation. ''Those who drafted the law do not know anything about the sport of Thai boxing, and this would make Muay Thai become extinct.''

''If you don't allow younger players to learn their way up, how can they be strong and experienced enough to fight?'' he said. ''We call it 'boxing bones.' You need to have boxing bones built from a very young age.''

Sukrit said the death of the 13-year-old, who fought under the name Petchmongkol S. Wilaitong, was a one-off incident and the result of a poorly organized event.

''This has never happened before and it's unprecedented,'' he said. ''There are several factors involved which have nothing to do with age. The referee wasn't quick enough to stop the fight and the venue didn't have a doctor on standby, which shouldn't happen.''

Public television station ThaiPBS reported that Anucha had fought more than 170 matches since he began boxing at the age of 8, and was currently fighting in the under 41 kilogram (under 90 pound) weight division. It said he was raised by his uncle, who is a boxing trainer, after his parents separated.

The uncle, Damrong Tasako, told Thai PBS that Anucha's death was an accident but he would like to see regulations for children under 15 to wear protective gear to soften blows to the head and body.

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