Leicester seek royal blessing on Thai tour

Bangkok (AFP) – Newly crowned English Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval at Bangkok’s Grand Palace Thursday, with the team kneeling en masse in front of a portrait of the king alongside their new trophy.

The Thai-owned East Midlands team is currently visiting the football-mad Southeast Asian nation as part of a publicity blitz following their fairytale title triumph.

Day two of their tour focused on Thailand’s top institution with a visit to the sprawling Bangkok palace complex of the revered but ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Local television broadcast pictures showed billionaire club-owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.

It has become common practice for subjects to sit on the floor or kneel to avoid being higher than the king. Thai athletes often present their medals and trophies at the palace as a way to show respect.

King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is the object of an intense personality cult and his frail health is a subject of significant public concern. 

He is also protected by one of the world’s most draconian royal defamation laws, making debate about the royal family’s role inside Thailand all but impossible. 

Under junta rule in the last two years, use of the lese majeste law has skyrocketed with some trangressors jailed for more than 20 years. 

Vichai, the owner of Thailand’s King Power duty-free shopping monopoly, has brought some of the kingdom’s traditions to Leicester City, with Buddhist monks regularly flown out to bless players and the stadium.

During their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players like Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater revelled in their remarkable league success.

The team is expected to take an open-top bus tour through Bangkok later Thursday, braving the city’s sweltering summer temperatures and notoriously gridlocked streets.

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