Bangkok, 25 October, 2019 – The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has commissioned legendary Liverpool left back John Arne Riise to film an online commercial around Phang Nga Bay promoting sustainable community development on Ko Panyi with its iconic floating football pitch as the centrepiece. The commercial film is scheduled to be broadcast via Dugout, the leading football website and its partnerships from 28 November, 2019.
Called by many the best left back to ever play for Liverpool, Riise went with TAT to explore many of Phang Nga Bay’s signature tourist attractions. In addition to Ko Panyi, he also visited Ko Lot, Ko Yao Noi, and James Bond Island (Ko Tapu) whilst also sea canoeing inside Phang Nga’s limestone karsts.
On Ko Panyi, Riise surprised a group of local kid’s playing on the island’s floating football field, engaging them in an impromptu match and a Sepak Takraw session, which he named as one of his personal highlights from the trip.
“When I was first told of the floating football pitch on the ocean my first impression was: How is that possible? But it is brilliant for the local kids to be able to kick the ball around with their friends and interact playing football.
“It proves you can truly play football wherever you are and connect people. I thought it was beautiful, and I enjoyed playing with the local Thai kids and at the end of the day, they were all smiles,” Riise said.
Until three decades ago, life on Ko Panyi was dependent on the Andaman Sea for food and income until a decision to build the pitch that helped lift the island’s Muslim community out of a cycle of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.
Local boys built up unique football skills after training on the unstable platform and soon began playing against other teams in Thailand. Panyi FC won seven consecutive regional championships from 2004 and is considered one of the best youth football programmes in Thailand. Today, the island is a tourist destination famous for fresh seafood and pearls plus its floating football pitch.
It was this passion for football but with nowhere to play that inspired Riise. He marvelled at how the inhabitants used their ingenuity to find a novel solution that turned the island into a sustainable tourist destination.
Riise, said: “I think sport in general is a passion for me. It is the easiest way to connect people and give people of different backgrounds a way to a better life. We might have different lifestyles and come from different parts of the world, but sport is always the easiest way to meet other people, meet other kids, and connect everyone in an environment where everyone is having fun.
“So it is a passion for me to be able to travel around the world show that football is for everybody and that is certainly true of what I experienced first-hand on Ko Panyi,”
The TAT trip provided Riise with an insight into Thailand that he had not had much time to enjoy during his professional career. In the past, he only came to Thailand for pre-season football friendlies or on an English Premier League Legend Tours. This was really the first trip where he got to experience how amazing Thailand is, and the country is now one of his favourite travel destinations in the world.
“People have a lot to learn from Thailand and Thai hospitality. A highlight for me has been meeting the Thai people and getting to interact with them. When everyone you meet is smiling, polite, respectful, happy and helpful, and you get to experience it personally, it’s wonderful,” Riise, concluded.