The King learned horseback riding when he was about 11 years old and soon became a capable rider. While studying in Thailand and abroad, he played several sports with friends including football, rugby and rowing.
A skillful footballer, His Majesty played football at Bangkok’s Chitralada School, Milfield School in England and Royal Military College, Duntroon in Australia.
The King was trained by coach Samroeng Chaiyong, a former national player. He first played as a forward and later became a centre-back. Because of his ability in the sport, he earned the nickname, the ‘Football Prince’.
After his graduation from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, His Majesty played for the Rak Muangthai (Love Thailand) team in friendly matches with military officers and journalists. The officers who played with the King included Gen Yutthasak Sasiprabha, former defence minister and ex-president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.
According to Yutthasak, the King did not act like he was a prince.
“Everybody played seriously,” said Yutthasak, “We still have a lot of photos of His Majesty playing football at the Thai Olympic office.”
Yutthasak added, “His Majesty could play in every position especially as a forward.”
His Majesty also competed in sailing with King Bhumibol and sister Princess Ubolratana when they were staying at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin. His father and sister were joint champions in a sailing event at the 1967 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games, now the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Over the past few years, His Majesty has become renowned for his involvement in cycling. When he was the Crown Prince, he initiated the hugely popular Bike for Mom and Bike for Dad events in 2015 in honour of his parents. The events attracted a large number of participants in every province across Thailand. He graced these events not only to celebrate his parents’ birthdays but also to encourage the Thai people to exercise for good health.
The King has played a key role in the growth of the sport in the Kingdom, according to Gen Decha Hemkrasri, president of the Cycling Association of Thailand. He has been donating trophies for winners of the Thailand Championships since 2000, Decha said.
Following the success of the Bike for Mom and Bike for Dad events, Decha said, “The two events will remain in the hearts of the Thai people.”
According to Decha, the King once told him to organise cycling competitions throughout the country as the sport “helps create unity, is a good exercise and is fun”.
In November 2018, the King, along with Queen Suthida, presided over the opening ceremony of the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane at Suvarnabhumi airport. The 23.5km cycling venue is now open to the public.
In December, he presided over the Bike Un Ai Rak event with the King leading a 39km bicycle round-trip parade between the Royal Plaza and Samut Prakan’s Phra Pradaeng district.
The King has also been patron of the Amateur Muay Thai Association of Thailand. He once told officials to help preserve the sport which is considered a national heritage.
His Majesty sees sporting spirit and promoting the country more important than winning. The King once told the Thai delegation for an international event, “Everybody wants to win. But it is normal that there are wins and losses in sports competitions. A win should not only be in a competition – you should also win the hearts of your opponents and spectators.”
He added, “[As Thai athletes competing in international events] you have two roles – one as athletes and the other as Thai citizens. Apart from trying to get the best results, you should try to be true athletes and preserve Thainess. Doing so will help you earn praise from other athletes and participating countries.”
Fittingly, His Majesty’s daughters, Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha and Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, also love sports including cycling. HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha also likes running and horseback riding, among other sports.
HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana is more serious about sports. She has taken part in the Asian Games and SEA Games as a badminton player or an equestrian rider. As a shuttler, the Princess won gold in the women’s team event at the 2005 SEA Games. As an equestrian athlete, Her Royal Highness, riding Prince Charming, won silver in the dressage team event at the 2017 SEA Games.