Thai cops seek image boost in brutal martial arts contest

Thai police take part in "Cops Combat," Thailand's first martial arts tournament for members of the Royal Thai Police, at Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Police from across Thailand entered one of the kingdom's oldest boxing stadiums in Bangkok on May 28 in a one-day martial arts competition aimed to boost public confidence. - AFP

BANGKOK (AFP): Khaki-clad Thai cops threw bone-crunching right hooks, wrestled and launched devastating sweeping kicks at each other in a brutal tournament on Tuesday aimed at punching up their public image.

The bouts at Bangkok's Rajadamnern Stadium followed a recent opinion poll that showed only a little more than 10 percent of the public had confidence in the Royal Thai Police.

So, in an attempt to boost their image, the kingdom's Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) summoned 96 of the fiercest officers to fight each other in a full-contact mixed martial arts tournament.

Thailand is known for its traditional kickboxing sport Muay Thai, where fighters use everything from fists to elbows, shins and knees to overcome their opponents.

The "Cops Combat" competition involved contestants fighting in three-minute bouts, using full-contact fighting styles from Thai kickboxing to Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Winners get a 5,000 baht ($136) prize and the honour of subduing "the suspect" -- their opponent -- Rattawut Jiamsripong, deputy commander of the Police Training Centre and one of the main organisers, told AFP.

- 'Good experience' -

Two cops wearing white t-shirts, khaki uniform trousers and head guards stepped onto the stage under the smoky haze of red-and-blue neon lights.

The pair bowed politely and smiled at each other but, as soon as the bell rang, they fought as if they were up against a true criminal, unleashing a barrage of punches and kicks.

Ratchanat Hongtawee, a police officer who was defeated in an 85-kilogram match, said the experience reminded him of his daily work when he is often confronted by suspected criminals.

"I am the first contact (with the suspect) in my line of work... and sometimes they resist arrest," he told AFP.

Despite losing, he said, "this is definitely a good experience".

Spectator Aek-Amorn Preeda-akkarakul, who came to watch his colleague, said the public should still have faith in Thailand's police force.

"I want to reassure you that there are still good cops out there," he told AFP while watching a bout.

Thai police have long been dogged by a reputation for corruption and brutality.

In one of the better-known cases in 2022, a court sentenced an officer -- dubbed "Joe Ferrari" for his taste in fast cars -- to life in prison for murdering a suspect by torture while trying to extort $60,000.

The opinion poll by the National Institute of Development Administration found this year that only 10.63 percent of respondents in its survey had confidence in the police.

CIB commissioner Jirabhop Bhuridej said in a video opening the event the competition would encourage Thai cops to stay fit and "to serve the people". - AFP

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