I would like to take this opportunity to gain some acquaintances with all of you, especially those who are attending the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) for the first time. IOAA marks its tenth anniversary this year and there is no better place to celebrate this occasion than Thailand - the birthplace of IOAA, which was graciously initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, where it was introduced back in 2007. It took great efforts and supports from my colleagues and friends in bringing together all the people in the circle of astronomy and related sciences to make the first IOAA a success in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
In the past decade, IOAA has gone from strength to strength - the number of participating countries has been doubled since it first started with only 21 countries. The latest IOAA in Bhubaneswar, India saw the drastic increase in number to 42 participating countries. This has proved that IOAA is a truly ubiquitous platform that thrives to incubate emerging talents and expose them to the real world of astronomy, reflecting through a wide range of hands-on examinations under close supervision from various world-renowned astronomical professionals. The platform also serves the current UN's agenda - Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that no one is left behind. IOAA is open for an influx of diversity where genders are seen irrelevant and economic hardships in developing countries are treated as challenges to overcome. The idea of inclusion and education-for-all has always been embedded in IOAA since the very start and I am glad to have learnt that, this year, we shall welcome more countries from those less privileged regions of the world to participate in this year IOAA in Phuket, Thailand.
With the boundless and gracious kindness, the 11th IOAA will be presided over by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn - the true patron who paved the way for Thai astronomy for decades. Her tireless support for astronomy in Thailand has been felt through countless projects under her royal initiatives. Take the Thai National Observatory Project for instance, the facility has lifted Thailand's competitiveness in the global arena dramatically, taking into account that astronomy is the key driver in pushing frontiers in science, technology and innovation with a great leap forward.
I, therefore, kindly welcome you to the beautiful city of Phuket. This city may display different facets to the world, from world-class tourism industry to international shopping spree and white sand beaches and not to mention, the tantalizing gastronomic food heaven. However, this year, Phuket shall take a different beat to showcase the world as it is to be remembered as a city of astronomy when IOAA returns to its birthplace for the first time in ten years.
All in all, IOAA may be an academic competition platform in astronomy and astrophysics but I also would like to reiterate that "competition", on the other hand, means nothing if there is no friendship and spirit in it. This is the time to savour friendship and learn to share spirit among people from different backgrounds throughout the world.
I look forward to welcoming you all to the 11th IOAA in Phuket, Thailand.