The military junta that overthrew Thailand’s elected government has told football fans that they can watch the World Cup for free.
As part of its goal to “return happiness to the Thai people”, the junta engineered a World Cup coup that will enable the country’s many soccer fans to watch all of the tournament’s 64 matches without having to pay.
The move is the latest to highlight the irony of the junta’s pursuit of happiness, as it tries to win support by embracing populist policies after kicking out an administration less than a month ago that it criticised for doing the same thing.
“We hope that every Thai will receive happiness from viewing the 2014 World Cup games. Please watch and enjoy, all of you,” said Lt Gen Chatudom Titthasiri, president of the army’s Channel 5 television station.
The generals stepped in by asking regulatory officials to find a way to deliver the World Cup to the masses.
The intervention came after the telecom regulator lost its second court case seeking to have RS International Broadcasting air the matches on free TV channels.
RS, the company holding the exclusive broadcast rights, had planned to allow just 22 games to be broadcast for free. Viewing the remainder of the matches would have required fans to buy a decoder box.
But the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has held a news conference to announce it had struck a compensation deal with RS so the entire World Cup can be shown on free channels.
The tournament, which starts in the middle of the night Thailand time, will be broadcast on two military-run channels, in addition to a cable channel owned by RS.
The junta that seized power on May 22 has curbed freedom of expression, banned assembly of more than five people and has no plans to restore civilian rule any time soon.
It has said that new elections will take at least a year, after political reforms occur. In the meantime, it has launched an official campaign to bring back happiness, something it says the divided nation desperately needs.
The campaign has involved weekly free concerts that offer free food and free haircuts. Authorities have announced that this week’s concert will include free flu shots and entertainment including dog shows.
While football fans were bound to cheer the junta for its World Cup freebie, not all Thais expressed happiness with the decision.
“I don’t watch soccer, so I disagree with spending millions of baht to let everyone watch the World Cup for free,” said Supanan Thaodai, a 27-year-old freelance art director. “The money should be spent on things that benefit everyone.”