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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia Set to Rejoin Sports World

Cambodia Set to Rejoin Sports World

Cambodia's sports stars of the 60s and 70s, who had their careers cut short by war

and revolution, are being urged to come back and help train a new generation of athletes

as the country prepares to rejoin the international sporting community after a 25-year

interval.

Keat Sohkun, the minister for sports women and youth affairs, said that only about

20 per cent of the country's national athletes and officials survived the Pol Pot

years and the country was desperately short of qualified coaches.

"There are more of the old sports people scattered in different parts of Cambodia,

doing rice farming or other careers and now the ministry is trying to find and persuade

them to come back as coaches or trainers," he told the Phnom Penh Post in a

recent interview.

Sokun said the coutnry was hoping to make its comeback to the international sporting

stage when Thailand's northern capital of Chiang Mai hosts the Southeast Asian games

in 1995. Later, the country will also be seeking readmission to the International

Olympic Committee.

After the Vietnamese-backed Phnom Penh government took power in 1979, Cambodia's

National Khmer Olympic Committee (NKOC), which was founded in the Sangkum Reastr

Niyum regime of Prince Sihanouk, began its activities again, but was not recognized

by the IOC because of the U.N.-sponsored boycott of the country.

To rejoin the IOC, the NKOC must oversee at least seven sport federations and be

able to meet the IOC's financial requirements.

"We need to pay money and have enough ability", Sokun said, adding that

a charter had to be drafted to set a legal framework for the committee.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh has expressed his intention to be the president of the NKOC,

which Keat Sokun welcomed as a great thing.

"If Cambodia becomes a member of IOC with the Prince's involvement, we hope

to get a lot of support", the minister said.

In addition to the lack of qualified trainers and coaches Cambodia's sportsmen and

women are also handicapped by a lack of equipment, facitlities and financial support.

Sportsmen, especially those who turn professional, are in theory eligible for state

sponsorship but with the government essentially bankrupt m ost athletes have been

forced to take up part-time careers in hotels, private companies or even as motor

taxi drivers. Few of them quit, though.

"The field of sports is working only thanks to the strong will of the sportsmen",

said Kem Syhuoth, deputy head of the Olympic Stadium-based Specialist Sports Office.

Kem Syhuoth, who also works at night in a hotel, said with an apparently embarrassed

look that because of financial problems the usually proud sports men have been forced

to do whatever they can in order to survive.

He said that despite all the difficulties, his office was able to keep all the old

sports federations alive, but that a few federations, particularly cycling, swimming

and athletics are now facing severe problems: no money to afford bicycles; no electricity

to turn the current of water in the swimming pools, no money to feed the players

and no special awards to encourage the swimmers.

"It's too bad to only give a towel shirt to the winner after riding his bicycle

over a distance of nine or 10 kilometers", Kem Syhuot complained.

As part of attempts to increase physical education in schools, the State of Cambodia

opened a sports college in 1988 in Phnom Penh to train more sports teachers. To date,

the school has turned out two 120-strong classes of students who are sent to different

schools all over the country. He said the number of graduates is a lot if compared

with that in the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era, but many quit teachers quit when assigned

to alien, far-flung provinces or when they find themselves unsuitable for the job.

"We have a lot of graduate professors, but they lack quality", Kem Say

complained. "There were only a few in the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era, but they

were of high quality".

According to Minister Keat Sokun, there will be national trials for football federations

on Sept. 9 at the Olympic stadium to select a team to take on the Russians on Nov.

9, to mark the 40th anniversary of Cambodian independence from the French.

To help the struggling organizations, Keat Sokun said the ministry wanted to return

all the money earned from each match to the sports clubs and federations so that

they can support their members.

Some of the diplomatic embassies in Phnom Penh have shown interest in helping Cambodia

revive its sporting traditions. "But their pledges have not amounted to much

yet". Private companies have also expressed interest in helping repair the broken

fractured sports grounds and the minister said that they must make sure that they

avoid damaging the original structures.

After years of neglect, many sports grounds, particularly the Olympic Stadium have

deteroriated and are in need of repair and maintenance which estimated to cost tens

of millions of dollars.

The Olympic Stadium, which was designed by the present Minister of State Vann Molyvann

and erected in 1960s is run down but still operational.

"Our stadium, though small, is not out of date yet", Keat Sokun said. "But

the lack of maintenance and misuse have caused it to deteriorate".

He said we cannot repair the broken parts due to a shortage of cash, but we can maintain

it so that it will not continue falling apart.

"We depend on money from the private sector, NGOs and governments who promised

to help us", said the minister. "We can't do anything if we depend on the

national budget".

Concerning Cambodia's participation in the next SEA Games in Thailand, Kem Say said

they are starting to train for the international sports meet in the next two years.

A three point plan has been drawn up to help resurrect sports.

The first step, called the quick project, the ministry has arranged to have normal

training or contests in order to improve the quality of the sports men. Then, it

will recruit young people, aged 14 and above, to come for training for the "two

year project".

For this second stage, the ministry plans to ask for international help to provide

coaches who will come and give training to sports federations that play team sports

such as football, etc., and to provide scholarships for individual sports such as

athletics. As part of the second stage, the ministry also plans to select and train

sports people to participate in the Chiang Mai SEA Games.

For the last long term phase of the plan, the ministry is preparing a number of programs

including training more sports instructors for schools which Keat Sokun said will

require at least three years.

At a later stage, the ministry will arrange to have a national training center established

for national athletes. The ministry will also encourage common people to take up

sports for their own health and promote traditional Khmer sports.

"I notice that Khmer people are quite enthusiastic, though poor", said

Keat. He has an idea to prepare more sports grounds and recreation centers around

Phnom Penh and in different parts of Cambodia so that people can take their families

for running or jogging.

The minister complained that people, including sportsmen, are now using the Olympic

Stadium, which he said should only used for contests, as a place to do their physical

exercises or training.

For the traditional sports, Keat said he will arrange to have a research program

set up to revive sports including the stick-based martial arts, boat racing, tug

of war, and "feet shuttlecock" for entertaining people during national

celebrations.

When asked if Cambodia will introduce other forms of sports, the minister said plans

are also being considered to bring in some Western games such as golf, but that this

will depend on private companies wanting to invest in the field of sports and recreation.

He said he wants this type of investment to establish other sports grounds on uncultivable

land on the outskirts of Phnom Penh or in different provinces.

This plan, he said, will benefit Cambodia greatly: the companies will pay for the

rent of the land; it will create jobs; Cambodia can ask the companies to train young

people; and the companies and sports will attract international tourists as well.

"And after 50 years, for example, those places will became our property."

"I think it's no loss," he said.

The ministry is also thinking about introducing sports games for handicapped people.

In addition, Minister Keat said he is also planning to arrange a race around Angkor

Wat in order to publicise the value of the ancient Khmer temples and at the same

time to attract more tourists.

Being so new and with a lack of facilities, even offices, the Ministry for Women,

Youth and Sports Affairs is proceeding under difficulties. For about a month now,

the ministry has been using rooms in the Sakall Pee hotel as its headquarters and

the minister said it would be located at the hotel for at least another 14 days,

until the new offices provided by the Culture Ministry are ready to be used.

In Phnom Penh, there is a large sports center called Borei Keila (sport city), but

it is presently being used to accommodate policemen and house IBC.

However, Deputy Minister of national Security Sin Sen has pledged to hand over the

Borei Keila to the Ministry of Sports, Minister Keat said, adding that he wants to

turn it to the National Institute of Sports.

Speaking about his own experience in the field of sports, Minister Keat said he used

to play football in the village since he was young and that in 1980, a year after

he sought refuge in Australia, he set up a football association called the Tonle

Sap Football Teams in that country with other Khmer friends.

The team, which competed against Vietnamese and Lao teams, always come first or at

least second in every match, but he said they played only for friendship.

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