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Olympic body seeks athletes abroad

Cambodian athletes attend the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore last year. AFP
Cambodian athletes attend the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore last year. AFP

Olympic body seeks athletes abroad

Cambodia's Olympic body has called on the Foreign Ministry to recruit athletes from the Cambodian diaspora to represent the Kingdom at elite international sporting competitions.

The announcement from Vath Chamroeun, general secretary of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), came on the heels of a visit from Cambodian-born US diver Jordan Pisey Windle – whom Chamroeun said had expressed interest in competing for the Kingdom.

“This is good for Cambodian athletes, who will make more effort to train . . . it will push us to correct our training conditions and cover our mistakes or weak points in sport,” Chamroeun said, adding the Olympics was a competition between athletes, not nations.

Although tracking down foreigners of Cambodian descent with sporting prowess – honed through their training overseas – was not against the Olympic rules, Jean-Loup Chappelet, a professor at Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration specialising in Olympic Games organisation, said the practice is “usually less overt”.

“It raises the question of autonomy of the National Olympic Committee vis à vis the government,” he said in an email.

John McGlynn, head of Phnom Penh’s Football Future Pro coaching academy, said while recruiting Olympians could spark interest and inject funding, there was still a gaping need to focus on grassroots development for young athletes at home.

“In the short term, it could be quite positive . . . but if there are going to be lasting results down the track, something needs to be put in place by the government,” he said.

“From a national level, you want to have a youth system in place where you can produce your own talent.”

Chappelet said many European nations and Gulf States recruit Olympians from elsewhere, which results in the dual benefit of enhanced medal chances for the nations and a chance to compete for athletes who would not make the cut in their country of residence – though, he added, it could also result in “muscle drain”.

“It is still necessary to regulate the ‘muscle drain’ because there might be some illegal or immoral human rights infringements and human trafficking behind these practices,” he said.

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