The man people say will be the black Jack Nicklaus

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The Independent Online
Thai governments are rarely accused of not being pragmatic, or to put it another way, opportunistic. This helps explain why Tiger Woods, the new wunderkind of the international golf circuit, is being claimed as one of Thailand's own.

Woods is nothing short of a phenomenon. His career would be incredible even if it were not for the fact that he is black, still a rare thing on the highly conservative international golf circuit. In short, he has taken his sport by storm since turning professional last year and the pundits are predicting remarkable things. He will soon become as potent a symbol of black achievement, they say, as Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan. He will be the black Jack Nicklaus.

In Thailand, excitement is rapidly reaching fever pitch, in anticipation of Woods's arrival today. Why? Because the American, whose mother is Thai, will be offered Thai citizenship and a royal honour at a ceremony attended by the usual circus of publicity seeking politicians.

"Fact is," wrote a Thai columnist, "we Thais absolutely adore anyone who is rich and famous - and when the rich and famous can throw in a bit of Thainess as well, then it's certainly time to break out the flags and get really carried away."

The problem, however, is that the offer of citizenship to Woods has only succeeded in highlighting Thailand's archaic and highly discriminatory laws relating to children of mixed marriages and the difficulties non- Thais have in acquiring citizenship.

Bottom of the pile are the children of Thai women married to foreigners, even if, unlike Woods, who does not speak Thai, they live in Thailand. These children are deprived of most civic rights and cannot, for example, own land.

Although Tiger Woods is well respected, the offer of citizenship is raising eyebrows because it is clear that he is essentially an American, whereas many Thai residents have a much stronger claim to citizenship but have no hope of acquiring it. Tida Woods, Tiger's mother, has been doing her best to demonstrate that her son has some Thai influences in his life. She says he was brought up as a Buddhist and, like many Thais, wears a Buddhist amulet round his neck.

However, Woods may not be able to avail himself of the honour because the US frowns on dual nationality. He will have less trouble accepting the $500,000 appearance fee for taking part in a golf tournament in one of Thailand's many luxurious golf clubs this week. Stephen Vines - Bangkok