His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was recognized for his interest in sports, not only as a spectator, but primarily as an active participant. He was an inspiration for Thai athletes and a successful athlete himself.
In the early days of his reign, His Majesty the late King enjoyed taking part in a wide variety of sports, ranging from tennis and ice-hockey to swimming and skiing. He was a skillful motorcar driver and had a surprisingly good knowledge of boxing. However, the sport he most enjoyed seemed to be sailing. He once crossed the Gulf of Thailand in a solo sail in 1966. The sea was particularly rough at that time and the voyage took almost 14 hours. He pointed out that sailing required one’s fullest concentration and strength against elements and competitors.
His Majesty the late King designed and built his own sailing boats, with the first one constructed at Chitralada Villa in 1964. All the materials used in construction were available in Thailand. He built three Moth Class boats, which were registered in the International Moth Class in England.
In order to encourage the people to enjoy sailing as a sport, His Majesty later granted permission to the Royal Thai Navy to build sailing boats of the International Moth Class for sale at low prices. The Royal Chitralada Yacht Squadron was also established by His Majesty to promote sailing among the public.
Before he gave up boat building, King Bhumibol faced his greatest sporting challenge in December 1967, when His Majesty and his eldest daughter, Princess Ubol Ratana, joined the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (SEAP Games), now the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games).
His Majesty King Bhumibol won the gold medal for yachting, O.K. class. He shared the honor with Princess Ubol Ratana, who was his crew. He took the podium, but royal protocol did not allow a commoner to place a medal around the Thai monarch’s neck.
In this regard, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit was asked to present the gold medal to His Majesty, who picked it up and placed it around his own neck. The historical moment took place on 16 December 1967, when the whole country rejoiced and took pride in the royal victory.
16 December each year was, therefore, picked as National Sports Day to commemorate this historic event. Thailand’s National Sports Day has been observed since 1986 in recognition of His Majesty’s contribution to sport development and advancement.
In the view of the late King Bhumibol, sports are an integral part of education, which provides children with knowledge of sportsmanship, which includes defeat as well as victory. He believed that sports would help promote the strength of mind and body.