Bayon Wanderer’s Chhay (centre, white) takes on Hanoi Drink Team players during the 2010 Bayon Challenge at Old Stadium. Photograph: supplied
This weekend’s Bayon Challenge football tournament will avoid a repeat of last year’s last-minute team withdrawals with all six participating clubs, four from Vietnam and two from Cambodia, having confirmed their attendance at the annual competition.
Last year, the tournament was at the centre of controversy after a clash in booking with the Cambodian Rugby Federation caused it to be relocated from the usual venue of Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium to the 7NG field, the site of a violent eviction of 335 families from the Dey Krahorm community three years ago.
“When we heard that the Old Stadium had already been booked for the planned weekend, we were really down and completely surprised,” event organiser Billy Barnaart told the Post when asked about the 2011 event. “We realised that we had only one week to find another field.”
According to the 63-year-old, the organising committee was aware of the controversy surrounding the 7NG field but had its hands tied as no other facilities were available at such a late notice.
The organisers were subsequently forced to cancel the competition following the decision of two of the six teams to withdraw in objection to the controversial choice of venue.
Instead, a mini-tournament involving the remaining four teams was played over a Sunday afternoon at the Old Stadium, as opposed to the traditional two-day affair.
Adam Smith, captain of the Saigon Saints, one of the two teams which pulled out from last year’s tournament, said: “There is a lot of history in Cambodia that must be respected and this should be the case even when football is involved.
“The uncertainty of events due to the evictions, in addition to the disorganisation of our traveling squad, meant that we were unable to participate in last year’s tournament.”
The 7NG field, once popular amongst local football teams, closed its doors to the public six months ago. A two-metre high wall now enclosed one side of the grass pitch, which has been left unattended and without goalposts.
The boundary nets, lights and majority of goalposts for the three adjacent concrete mini soccer courts have also been removed.
When asked whether the grounds were slated for further development, Nhem Vanny, senior sales executive for 7NG Group, said: “I am not sure what the plans are for the field now that it is closed, but it is the decision of the management and we are not able to comment any further.”
The 7NG Group had originally planned to build luxury apartments as well as offices and retail space on the site. However, with the lack of development other than a company building, a restaurant and an abandoned soccer field, observers have claimed that property speculation was the company’s sole reason for the project.
Meanwhile, the 2012 Bayon Challenge returns to its traditional venue of the Old Stadium.
The competition, a regular fixture in the region’s amateur club sporting calendar and currently in its eleventh edition, will see some intense action with last year’s runners up Hanoi Drink Team, five-time Saigon International Football League champions Olympique de Saigon and local favourites Bayon Wanderers among the teams taking part.
Saigon Saints, the runners up in 2009, will also make a comeback to the competition together with relatively new sides Saigon Hotshots and Aspara Dancers.
However, last year’s champion, Ezecom, have decided to snub the chance of defending their title.
“I believe that this year’s tournament will be a success like the years before,” said Barnaart, who coaches both the Bayon Wanderers and the Aspara Dancers.
“The teams coming to Cambodia will be very competitive.”
Olympique de Saigon triumphed in the recent Bangkok Far East International Tournament, which was celebrating its historic 30th incarnation as the oldest in the region.
Saigon Hotshots finished sixth in their first foray into international competition.
Phnom Penh-based Bayon Wanderers will be no pushover either, after tasting success over the past two years at events such as the Cambodian Country Club Tournament, the Charity Cup, the Phnom Penh Post mini-soccer league and, most recently, the K9 competition.
“I believe the Bayon Wanderers are the underdogs going into this tournament,” Barnaart added. “With all the individual talents in the team, it should be possible to take the title but only when these talents are willing to work with and for each other.”
For next year’s edition, the Bayon Challenge has received assurance from two teams, Swiss Club Singapore and Finexsys from Kuala Lumpur, of their participation.
“It would be good if other Cambodian teams can participate, as there is so much to learn from these tournaments,” Barnaart said.
“Cambodian is rich in football talent, though it is missing the infrastructure to support these talents. If these young talents can be discovered early, then professional teams can come in and take them to a higher level of playing.”
Sponsors for this year’s contest include EMAXX, Dan’s Meat, Tiger Beer (Cambodia Brewery Ltd.), Aussie Gourmet Bakery, Phoenix Security Services, FCC, the Phnom Penh Post and Royal Rattanak Hospital.
Games start at 8:30am tomorrow and on Sunday, with the grand final slated for a 5pm kick off on the final day. Entrance for spectators is free at Old Stadium.
To contact the reporter on this story: Calvin Yang at [email protected]