Twelve boys who were trapped with their football coach in a flooded cave in Thailand for almost three weeks are embarking on a 17-day trip “to show the world how our kids are”, a government spokesman said.
The members of the Wild Boars football team, whose ordeal came to a happy ending in early July when an international team of cave divers brought them out in a complicated rescue mission, will visit Argentina and the US.
Several British divers were involved in the boys’ rescue, including Rick Stanton, from Coventry, and John Volanthen, from Bristol, who were the first to reach the stranded group in the Luang Nang Non Cave.
But Thailand’s military government, eager to share in their glory, has trotted them out for public appearances and interviews.
Film deals are being negotiated.
The government has effectively become the manager for the boys’ public life off the playing field.
According to deputy government spokesman Weerachon Sukoondhapatipak, the purpose of the trip is “not to take the kids out for a holiday but to show the world how our kids are”.
He said the trip also provides a chance for the boys to thank the rest of the world for the international rescue effort.
The boys, many of whom have expressed a desire to become professional footballers when older, received invitations from several famous foreign teams.
They were invited to attend the 2018 World Cup final by Fifa president Giovanni Infantino, but were still recovering in hospital at the time.
They also received invitations to train with the youth academies of some of European football’s most esteemed clubs, including FC Barcelona and Manchester United.
The boys are also scheduled to sit down for a meal with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who invited them, said Patama Leeswadtrakul, a Thai member of the IOC.
After four or five days, they head for New York, where their schedule – still tentative – includes a news conference at the Thai mission to the UN and guest TV appearances.
Wild Boars coach Ekkapol Chantawong, player Adul Sam-on and Narongsak Osatanakorn, the provincial governor who supervised the rescue, will make an appearance at the Asia Society, a non-profit educational institution normally more used to hosting diplomats and other VIPs.
The next stop is Los Angeles, which has a large Thai population, some of whom will get to meet the boys.
More press and TV activities are scheduled, along with a visit to the Universal Studios theme park, before their return home.
All expenses for the trip will be paid by the people who invited the team, according to deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who added that the boys will be travelling during their school break and the host groups gave assurances that they would not be exploited.