BANGKOK — Following days of widespread criticism, the army chief on Thursday said he ordered an investigation into a boxing match blamed for the largest cluster of coronavirus infections in Thailand.
Gen. Apirat Kongsompong said he instructed an inquiry committee to be set up in response to allegations that the army-operated Lumpinee Boxing Stadium flaunted a government shutdown order, and proceeded with the match on March 6, resulting in at least 143 cases of infection related to the arena.
“I ordered Gen. Ayuth Sriwiset, chief of the personnel directorate, to establish an inquiry committee into the matter after we had been receiving complaints that the match is a super spreader,” Apirat said.
The general did not mention when the investigation will conclude and what punishments might be delivered.
The stadium is owned and operated by the Royal Thai Army as one of its network of commercial ventures which also includes golf courses and racecourses. Gen. Apirat himself is the chairman of the stadium, according to the stadium’s website.
The management of the stadium, chaired entirely by army officers, has remained silent after it emerged on Tuesday that they had defied an order issued by the Sports Authority of Thailand asking the stadium’s president to postpone the match.
The Prime Minister also ordered all large gatherings to be cancelled days before the match took place.
But Wiboon Champangurn, director of the sport authority’s boxing board, said the stadium should not be blamed for what happened. He also criticized the media for stirring fears and condemnation against the Muay Thai industry.
“I disagree with the media for blaming boxing fans,” Wiboon said. “Why did they do that? Why don’t they help finding the solution? The stadium has contributed a lot to boxing fans generations after generations. It never harms society and many are depending on the boxing profession to support their families.”
The stadium’s public relations department also refuted the rumor claiming that the match drew more than 5,000 visitors. In fact, it was attended by only 2,500 people, according to the statement released to the media.
Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a member of the now-defunct Thai Raksa Chart Party, on Wednesday submitted a petition to PM Prayut Chan-o-cha urging him to investigate whether Gen. Apirat or any state officials deliberately disregarded his order demanding large events to be postponed.