THIS year’s Water Festival will feature 391 boats, according to a report released October 22 by the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals. More than 25,000 crewmembers will race down Phnom Penh’s riverside, including seven teams of women racers.
The total is a decrease of 33 boats from last year’s participation, with the majority coming from neighbouring Kandal province (107 boats), while Kampong Cham boats number 65, Prey Veng are sending 40, Kampong Chhnang and Kratie contribute 36 each, Kampong Thom boast 28, Phnom Penh have 25, Takeo 12, Battambang 5, and other provinces make up the remainder along with some teams from government institutions.
Chea Sokhom, vice president and secretary general of the festival committee, suggested repercussions of Typhoon Ketsana had caused the drop in numbers, as well as fears from participants about swine flu.
The secretary also noted that no boats from neighbouring countries were participating this year. “In the past, through contact with the Ministry of Tourism, our neighbour countries sent their rowers for our traditional ceremony, but not this year,” he stated. “We are happy because, in the past, we didn’t know about the standard of those rowers. We found it difficult to advise them, and they didn’t listen much to us.”
Chea Sokhom showed deep regret about the circumstances surrounding the death of five Singaporeans during the 2007 Water Festival races. “Honestly, we asked them to use lifejackets, but they wanted to do as our experienced rowers,” he said.
However, Min Khin, minister of Culture and Religious Affairs and also chairman of the festival committee, stated Tuesday that the decrease in participants was due to a selection process at provincial level to only allow the best teams to conmpete.