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Thai boxing resumes, but audiences stay home

Boxers and referees go back in the ring after months out of work

Social distancing: A referee and Muaythai boxers wearing face shields gather before their fight in front of empty spectator seats at the Siam Boxing Stadium in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand on June 4.   © Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) -- Thai boxing matches resumed on Saturday after more than three months as the nation eases its coronavirus lockdown, but fans of the popular sport will have to make do with watching on television for now.

Leaders of the sport hailed the return to the ring after the shutdown, which left hundreds of boxers and referees without work, and said they hoped spectators would be allowed to attend matches again soon.

"I'm very happy and excited to get back to the ring ... But I feel a bit strange. I was used to the sounds of crowds cheering, but there's no audience," said Khathawut Tumthong, a 21-year-old boxer.

Thailand's government has eased most curbs to try to revive an economy badly hit by the pandemic, with sports competitions among the latest activities to resume. No local transmissions of the virus have been reported for 40 days.

However, authorities have yet to issue rules on when and how audiences will be allowed at sports venues. In March, a spike in virus cases was linked to a boxing match in Bangkok.

"Today is a good start for the boxing industry," said Viboon Jampa-nguern, head of Thailand's boxing committee.

"Boxers are in jeopardy, they don't have alternative jobs. The same goes for those who work as boxing referees, they don't have second jobs to support them," he said.

Thailand's tourism-driven economy could contract a record 8.1% this year, with the number of foreign tourists expected to tumble 80%, the central bank has forecast.

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