As The Phnom Penh Post celebrates the historic milestone of its 30th anniversary, Cambodia’s athletes are training in earnest. The Kingdom is preparing to host the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) for the first time in history.
As a country that suffered from foreign colonisation before being torn apart by a series of bloody civil wars over decades, Cambodia struggled for decades to recover from its dark and bitter days. Today, it enjoys comprehensive peace and freedom.
Having gained independence from France on November 9, 1953, Cambodia in the 1960s enjoyed a Golden Age of optimism, marked by a surge in creative output across music, cinema and the arts.
In sport, the Kingdom was due to host the third edition of the Games – then called the South East Asian Peninsular Games (SEAP Games) – in 1963 but had to withdraw due to the political situation at the time, which would descend into the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge in 1975.
However, thanks to the Win-Win Policy of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Khmer Rouge surrendered in 1998, ending three decades of civil war, and with the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, the stage was set for Cambodia to re-emerge on the international stage.
With all parts of society once again able to function smoothly, Cambodia began to develop, and joined the ASEAN regional political and economic bloc on April 30, 1999.
The sports sector was not neglected by the government, which established a national sports federation to provide training and resources for both athletes and officials. In the past 40 years, Cambodia has sent sporting delegates out to compete on the international stage and seen them return home bearing medals, especially in the recent 31st SEA Games in Vietnam, a major event in the region.
Since the first Games were held in the Thai capital Bangkok in 1959, Cambodia has been unable to host the regional sporting extravaganza. Thailand and Malaysia have each hosted the biennial multi-sport event six times.
Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines have each hosted the event four times, Myanmar thrice and Vietnam twice, with Brunei and Laos each playing host once. The sole non-ASEAN participant East Timor, like Cambodia, has yet to host.
However, that is set to change on May 5 next year when the SEA Games cauldron will be lit at the state-of-the-art Morodok Techo National Stadium on the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh.
With the phenomenal growth and potential of sports in Cambodia, the Kingdom – despite its small population – has claimed medals at World Championships, and the Asian and SEA Games.
Winning gold medals at consecutive Asian Games for the first time – at Incheon 2014 and Jakarta-Palembang 2018 – and ever-increasing medal hauls at the recent SEA Games convinced Prime Minister Hun Sen that the time is right for Cambodia to host the 2023 edition.
The premier made officials and stakeholders aware of the serious responsibility that comes with hosting the Games.
“We need to remember that in our role as hosts, we must make sure the Games run smoothly from start to finish. We must not discourage the athletes of any of the participating countries as this would tarnish the image of our country.
“Winning medals should be our secondary goal. As a responsible member of ASEAN, we must guarantee that the athletes and visitors from foreign nations return home with gratitude for the warm welcome we give them. No one should have any reason for criticising the Kingdom because of poor hospitality or accommodation,” he said.
When the decision to accept the offer to host was made in 2016, the government established the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) to take on the responsibility of preparing a master plan for the event.
Cambodia has developed sports infrastructure – including arenas and stadiums – in the capital and provinces to serve the SEA Games. The Morodok Techo National Sports Complex, built at a cost of about $150 million thanks to a grant from China, is the jewel in the crown of the Kingdom’s sporting facilities, and will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2023 Games.
The athletes and officials of each sport have also been training hard, with each sport’s governing body setting their own goals for the Games.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh, in his capacity as the president of CAMSOC, spoke at a meeting of the SEA Games Federation Council, held in Siem Reap in April.
“This is a wonderful opportunity. I would like to remind you that Cambodia has been waiting for 64 years to host this spectacular event. Thanks to the wisdom and leadership of our prime minister, Cambodia lives under the roof of peace and is well on the way to restoring the socio-economic situation and promoting post-Covid-19 prosperity for all.
“The leadership of the Kingdom pays close attention to the development of sports. The work of CAMSOC, as we planned the journey to next year’s Games, has been honourable, dignified and successful.
“The government has invested vast resources, both financial and mental, in building the sports infrastructure we need to make sure the event is outstanding, most notably with the [new] national stadium. We now have the facilities to serve both international competitions and training in all kinds of sports,” he said.
General Tea Banh also said that the development of human resources – including athletes, coaches, and technical officials – is another area of which the Kingdom could be proud. Improved training and coaching had seen the performance of the Kingdom’s athletes increase exponentially.
Cambodia has also succeeded in introducing the traditional sport of “bokator” to the 2023 SEA Games. At the April meeting, the members of the SEA Games Federation Council agreed to include it, along with 39 other sports. This means the 2023 SEA Games will feature 40 sports, the most of any Games since 1977.
“Introducing bokator at the 2023 Games has been a long-term goal of ours. It is an honour to share this cultural treasure with our ASEAN neighbours. Our plan was successful and all of the member states supported its official inclusion, so it is a great honour for us,” said Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of both the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) and CAMSOC.
CAMSOC leaders also announced the arrival of the Games to the people when Cambodian sports delegates – led by General Tea Banh – organised a parade of SEA Games flags and gold medal winners on May 24.
On that occasion, Tea Banh said: “Today, people across the country are happy – and rightly proud – that the Kingdom has opened a new page in their history and elevated national prestige by bringing the SEA Games flag to Cambodia.
“I call on all compatriots, in and outside of the country, to be fully prepared to extend the best of Khmer hospitality. We will welcome Southeast Asian sports delegates and international guests from all over the world with friendly smiles and the gentle and dignified attitude of the Cambodian people, who are living in peace and developing in all fields.”
“Please be ready to take part in beautifying the Kingdom and eliminating social inactivity in order to enhance the honour and prestige of Cambodia during the historic events of the 2023 SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games. We shall achieve the great successes which a country with such a rich history deserves,” he added.
CATEGORY I: Athletics (Track and Field, Marathon); 2. Aquatics (Swimming, Diving, Water Polo)
CATEGORY II: 3. Badminton, 4. Basketball (5x5 and 3x3), 5. Boxing, 6. Billiards, 7. Cycling (Road Race and MTB), 8. Canoe and rowing (inc Traditional Boat Race), 9. Chess (Ok Chaktrong, Asean and Xiangxi), 10. Dance Sports, 11. Fencing, 12. Football, 13. Golf, 14. Gymnastics (Aerobic and Artistic), 15. Hockey (inc Indoor), 16. Judo, 17. Karate, 18. Muay, 19. Petanque, 20. Sailing, 21. Sepak Takraw (inc Chinlone), 22. Soft Tennis, 23. Tennis, 24. Table Tennis, 25. Taekwondo WT, 26. Triathlon (Including Aquathlon and Duathlon), 27. Volleyball, 28. Wrestling, 29. Weightlifting, 30. Wushu
CATEGORY III: 31. Arnis, 32. BodyBuilding, 33. E-sports, 34. Floorball, 35. Jiu Jitsu, 36. Jetski, 37. KickBoxing, 38. Kun Bokator, 39. Vovinam, 40. Martial Arts Korea.