Pattaya Daily News

07 December 2006 :: 11:12:24 am 7368

Is There Something Behind The Scene Of “Flamingo” Jet Ski Team, Pattaya, Thailand?

PATTAYA (PDN), On the 5th of December, At midday, I had an opportunity to visit Mr. Karl heinrich, the president of “ Flamingo Jet Ski Team” in Pattaya, Thailand. According to his famous Jet Ski Team “ Flamingo” has been connecting to bad reputations.
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I arrived at his compound at 11.30, had a look around the area where there were 4-5 men working on their boats. I took a few photos and then he came, “Mr. Henry”, the easy name for the Thai pronunciation, the president of “Flamingo Jet Ski Team”. We exchanged the greetings and he started to show me around the workshop and the Trophy room. It was like walking in a trophy shop. We skipped the details of the well known successful stories of each racing.

I was taking more photos while he was too busy answering the phone calls. When we were walking out from the Trophy room, I spotted a smart looking sport car, which was being cleaned and polished by a young boy. “That’s a very nice car of yours” I said.

No, that car belongs to Teerawat Lahhip, he was like my son, I bought him the car when he won the world Championship in 2004, we will keep it for his son who is a small boy today” he explained sadly.

Is that what you do when some one in your team wins a title?
“Yes, I always give them presents.” He answered.
“They deserved it; they had been working hard on the way to get the title. It is like your children when they do something nice, you always give them presents.” he added.

We live together like a family in this house” he said, while was leading me to his house.
It is nice, quiet and seemed to be very peaceful and comfortable home. We spent three and a half hours on our conversation nearby the pool.


 

Q: How long has your team been established?
A:11 years and we have been quite successful over the past five years.

Q: Is Jet Ski your favorite sport?
A:Yes, but not before I formed the team. Mainly because I didn’t know anything about Jet Ski’s then.

Q: What was the Teams origin?
A:That was roughly 11 years ago, when Chawalit and I met Pichet, and he was the one who taught me everything about Jet Ski’s.

Q: How did you meet Pichet ? (Pichet Settura, the World Jet Ski Champion in the Expert Runabout 1200 class of the year 2000)
A:He had a Jet Ski shop in Soi Thepprasit, one day Chawalit and I drove pass his shop, and I asked Chawalit if he wanted to race Jet Ski’s.

Q: Who is Chawalit and why did you think that he would be interested in the sport?
A:Chawalit was working at my hotel, and we spoke about this sport many times. Later on he became a world champion too. He still works for me now.

Q: How old was he then?
A:He’s about 18, and very active person, smart and fast learner.

Q: And when you met Pichet 11 years ago, was he already the world champion?
A:Yes, he was. He knows everything about Jet Ski, this guy is remarkable….

Q: So originally, Pichet was not your team, he had his own team?
A:Yes, but when we met, we formed the team together; It consisted of me, Pichet, Chawalit and some of his friends. After approximately three years, Pichet left the team, he went his way and we went ours but we still remain the best of friends.But we kept going and when the new Jet Ski Association of Thailand came into existence, Jet Ski race organization improved immensely. With proper rules and regular races, 4 or 5 times a year.

Competition was hard but the Thai racers were and still are, very good. So we became more successful after each match. Then we started to go to all the competitions in America, and became so successful that we won many World Cups for Thailand.

Q: So your team and all your staff are Thai and they all live together in your compound. You provide the accommodation for everyone, why?
A:Because they mainly come from “up country”. I have never had to go out and search for them. They arrive by word of mouth from people who know me and old staff.
Also, when you have a big team to run you must have a lot of staff. Not just racers. We have mechanics, trainers, cleaners, and maids. They all have family who sometimes come to visit and stay.

Q: Is equipment expensive?
A:Yes, very expensive, especially when you want to succeed, you have to spend the money on it. I bought really expensive Jet Ski boats for each good rider, and they take care of their own boats.

Q: So you spend a lot of money training up each young racer? You buy an expensive boat, pay for the entire trip to America, and when they win, you also buy them presents, have you ever donated to charity?
A:I have been helping poor villages up country. I built a school, bought computers, books and spent millions to help them. I love to help the people who have no opportunities to achieve their goals.

Q: What has lead to “Flamingo’s” poor reputation recently, do you think it may be young boys getting together, creating problems?
A:No, that’s not true! It hurts me so much when they call us “The Flamingo Gang”. We are NOT a gang; this is just a group of young boys trying to achieve their goals in Jet Ski Racing. Just as in any sport, like boxing, soccer.
But (obviously) Jet Ski is a water sport and we live in a Beach Town, so it’s a great opportunity for them to practice their game. I will never be able to fully control them, to make sure they are always on the right track They are just young kids, who mostly come from poor families.

Q: What you are saying is all you team members are good boys?
A:No, of course not, there are good and bad boys everywhere. What I am saying is, I have done my best to help the lads who want a good future. To, at least keep them away from drugs or anything which could lead them into trouble.

Q: What about the Snatcher cases which happened around Pattaya? They claimed to be your team members?
A:This is a story that I would like to make clear. Why didn’t the newspapers or somebody concerned with the cases come to talk to us and find out. At least give us a chance to put our side of the story?

The men arrested used to be in our team years ago. However, they are still wearing our T-shirts.

Think about it carefully, if you are in our team and expect to be a “somebody”, to be successful, why would you ruin your name by wearing a “Flamingo T-shirt” and go out and shoot people, or snatch things!

I pay them enough. Everyone has their salary with which to support their family. I’m talking about an organization here; even it’s only a hobby for me.

Q: So you have them live together in the compound, which is quite well known as your palace or your own empire?
A:It’s not what people think. You are here, you can see, I’m not leaving in a Palace, it is just a comfortable place for a retired man like myself. Just like a Thai family, you can see kids of all ages running around. There are no secrets here. Everybody loves each other. When one wins a title, everyone is happy. On the other hand when a person gets hurt, we all get hurt too.

Q: So you are saying, that there are possibilities for someone to wear your T-shirt team and going around and create the problems just to discredit your team name? Why? Have you hurt somebody on the way unintentionally?
A: Never, not as far as I know. I would never do that, why would I? Even though we are the most successful team in Thailand and Number Two in the world of Jet Ski racing, I don’t compete for money or fame.

Q: How many Jet Ski teams are there in Thailand?
A:There are quite a number; they are very, very good too. That’s why we are good. Good riders, make good competition. We do not always win, but we have young guys in our team and they are always improving.

Q: So do you think it might be something to do with the “drugs” deal?
A:There are a few guys who have left the Team because of drug convictions. But drugs are quite often prevalent with young teenagers, anywhere in Thailand.
Taken from our side, there isn’t any reason for the boys, who want to achieve their goals, to destroy their future. I support them. Every one of them. I provide their education and help their families at home.
I’m not saying that none of the boys have been involved or addicted to drugs, a few have but as soon as I found out, I have tried to help them, by taking them to get treatment. I hate drugs! I have never taken drugs. I don’t even smoke. If the guys can’t follow my rules, they either go home or leave the team.

Q: What do you mean by from “our side”, is there anyone outside getting involved with drugs and try to relate to your team?
A:I don’t know. I still have no idea what’s going on and I prefer not to say too much.
I will do my best to handle this situation but I ask you, the media, to please respect people a little bit more. Think about their names, their reputation. What if the information you were given and reported is not the truth, then the boys are victims. They are punished, even if the case hasn’t been decided. The damage has been done.
I’m so frustrated sometimes.

Q: Have you been thinking about giving up?
A:Yes, many times lately. We are scared. We don’t know exactly what is behind this but it is getting far too serious. This is not fair.
For example; Teerawat Lahhip, what happened to him in March, wasn’t like anything the media reported.
Anyway, what am I going to do with the people here, my team, my staff? We have been living like a family for years. This is like raising a family, I can’t just give up. This is their dream as well.

Q: Have you ever promoted your team at all?
A:Why should I? I haven’t done this for living, it’s my hobby. One thing leads to another as I told you from beginning.

Q: So money is not the issue, obviously, you have been financial supporting your own team without an external supporter .How much will they get if they win the world champion?
A:Well, it’s not that much.

Q: So how do you motivate them to get into this kind of sport?
A:First, they all come from very poor families. Their parents can’t afford their education fees. They probably don’t want to practice boxing; it’s a very tough sport. Remember, I do buy them presents when they win.

Q: But this is a very expensive sport; you must have invested a huge amount of money on these young men?
A:It’s not the investment; I will never get my money back. I love to see people being successful.I always tell them money is a “come and go” thing.
Winning a Title is the greatest thing that could happen in your life and nobody can take it away from you. It’s something that you and the younger generations that follow you, will always be proud of.

Q: Back to the latest case about “Arthit WongPinta”, what happened?
A:The situation started to be bad about a year ago. His name was connected to a murder case, the case is still open. The police had been looking for the shooter for the whole year. Arthit was brought to the police station when it happened, but there wasn’t any evidence to prove that he was the killer. He was released and went back to his routine life. He goes to school, practices Jet Ski, been to USA and won the first runner up of the World Championship. He is living his life like a normal teenager. Suddenly, on Saturday the 2nd of this month, he was arrested at the beach where he was practicing his riding.

Q: Then what happened? Did you bail him out?
A:Yes, I did, after he spent 2 nights in Chonburi prison, now we have to wait for the court procedure.

Q: Will he be able to race for the King’s Cup, on the special occasion as part of the celebrations for His Majesty, the King 60th Anniversary ?
A:I hope so.

Q: Have you ever been accused as a drug’s dealer or money lauder or something similar to that?
A: ((Laugh) What do you think? No not really but I was invited to the Police Station, every time the name “Flamingo” was involved. Even when I didn’t even know the man who had claimed, that he was part of our team.

Q: May be you give away too many T-shirts or stickers of “Flamingo”
A:Actually ,I’m glad you mentioned this. I have a short story for you.
Last year we were in Nongkai, where I have a house. While we were drinking, eating and cerebrating Christmas, the TV. Channel we were watching, switched from Thai Soap Opera onto Crime News in Pattaya. The news report was saying that “The fighters were the members of “Flamingo Gang”” I couldn’t believe it because we were all there in Nongkai. None of my staff were missing. All the boys had a good laugh but I was really angry and disappointed.

Q: May I ask about your personal details, when was your first time in Thailand?
A:25 years ago. I just traveled around Southeast Asia with my girl friend, Our first destination was the Philippines, Indonesia and for the last couple of days we visited Bangkok.

Q: Had you heard about Pattaya then?
A:I had no idea about Pattaya. Twenty five years ago there was no Internet, or mobile phones, you have to realize that.

Q: No information, so when did you first come to Pattaya?
A:The first time was about 11 or 12 years ago. I kept coming back but only for one or two week holidays. I started to like the country, the culture and the people. I met some very nice friends and still keep in touch with them.

Q: When did you decide to settle down in Pattaya?
A:Well, after a couple of years I began to feel like this is my Home. I feel relaxed and comfortable here. I wanted to retire here, in Thailand, which I have done but I still travel back home, every year, to see my family.

Q: Are your parents still alive? And do you have any brothers and sisters?
A:My parents died, I have two brothers and one sister.

Q: Do they come to see you sometimes?
A:Yes, they do, they always come to see me and they love Thailand very much. They love the people, the food and the climate. They understand why I love to stay here, but may be not now after they have heard about all this bad news.

Q: What business are you in?
A:It’s a family business; my brother and cousin are running our company. I have just retired but I don’t use company money to support my hobby of course.

Q: What exactly is your family business? Is it in Germany?
A:It’s Gypsum and Gypsum-Related products for Interior Construction. It is a very big international manufacturing firm. Our company is very old one formed in 1932 and is very successful.

Q: Do you have your business web sites?
A:Yes, you can just type my family name “ Knauf” in any search TYPE; I think you will find us in many languages; the main one should be  www.knauf.com

Q: Have you showed the police your business background or anything to prove, where your money come from?
A:I did, but not to everyone, I only did when they asked. I’m not the type of person who talks about myself.

Q: Does it help at all? Do they understand you more?
I think so but they didn’t stay that long. And every time a different Policeman questions me, I have to go through the whole process again.

Q: Do you think whoever is behind this means to attack you, not the boys?
A:I really don’t know. I don’t have any problems with anybody but now I’m worried.
I feel sorry for the families of the boys, who may be connected to any of these cases concerning the “Flamingo Team”.
Again I would like to assure to you, we are a TEAM and not a “Gang”. Please come to visit us, talk to us. Don’t just write whatever you think or may have been told because it can only make things worse for everyone. Not just us, things could backfire.

Q: Will you continue to support these boys in their sports?
A: Truthfully, I sometimes feel very frustrated. In any other country I would be very well respected for the work I do with the people. Of course, I will continue, I cannot let them down now.


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Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : Sports News

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