Elephants kick off World Cup fever in Thailand
June 14, 2018 9:20 AM
by Robert Mann
Elephants kicked off World Cup fever in Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya this week in a match to raise awareness against illegal gambling.
Nine elephants, painted with the flags of countries competing in 2018 World Cup in Russia, passed the ball to each other and swerved around the field in a 15-minute match against students from a local school.
The pachyderm party organizers said they wanted to show students the World Cup was more about enjoying the sport than betting on teams.
"They're here to bring color and joy, and create awareness that we can enjoy the World Cup without gambling and just cheer for the players," said Reangthongbaht Meephan, deputy chief of the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal.
Football gambling, some of it illegal, is big business in Thailand where law enforcement agencies in Asia say they are gearing up to fight illegal gambling operators ahead of the World Cup. In Bangkok, police said they have arrested 763 people in 681 cases of illegal soccer gambling since May 1.
Bangkok's deputy police commissioner Panurat Lakboon said they are monitoring over 300 gambling websites, but many are difficult to shut down because they are hosted on servers outside Thailand, according to media reports.