The Council of Ministers led by Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved the official master plan to host the 2023 South East Asian Games, setting in motion a massive organisational commitment to stage the biggest multi-discipline sporting event the Kingdom has ever seen.
The plan to hold the biennial event got the green light on Friday, with the Cabinet addressing the financial and logistical challenges ahead.
The prime minister has already named Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh, who is also national defence minister, as chairman of the SEA Games Organising Committee.
The panel will include the education minister, the governor of Phnom Penh, the president of the NOCC and a senior minister as deputy chairs. The full composition of the committee is likely to be announced soon, along with the appointment of a CEO.
Cambodia’s intent to bid for the 2023 SEA Games was officially announced by Tourism Minister Thong Khon, who is also president of the NOCC, at a SEA Games Federation meeting in Singapore last year.
The formal acceptance of the road map from the government has come as a huge relief for ASEAN nations as Cambodia is the only member to have missed out on hosting the SEA Games since its inception in 1959.
Political turmoil in 1963 ruined Cambodia’s preparations for the third SEA Games, which had included the construction of Phnom Penh’s iconic Olympic Stadium.
By the time the 32nd SEA Games takes place in the Kingdom seven years from now, it will have meant a painful 60-year wait.
While pledging Cambodia their fullest support, several leading sports administrators from the region say they would like to seek reassurances from the current administration that the Games will not suffer from any political changes.
As one veteran Singaporean sports analyst said anonymously: “2018 and 2023 are election years in Cambodia [and] the political spectrum may change and the power balance may shift. So in the larger interest of the region, we need to make sure the Games will run a smooth course whoever may be holding the reins of power at the time,’’ he said.
According to the master plan, the organisational cost of the Games alone is likely to reach $40 million. But there will be huge additional costs in logistics, human resources, transport and other strategic areas such as hiring good coaches and strengthening federations.
The Cabinet is understood to have suggested that the Finance Ministry phase the budget provisions over stages to lighten the burden. Suggestions have also been made from several influential quarters that the government consider a small surcharge on items like petrol, alcohol and cigarettes to augment its Games-related financial resources.
Experts indicate that over the seven-year period, this small tariff could grow into a tidy sum without adversely impacting on people. Several countries have successfully adopted this strategy in handling the costs of similar events.
The other forms of monetary mobilisation being contemplated are offers to the private sector for partnerships. While the licensing of SEA Games products is also on the table, the organising committee is likely to make appeals for donations from wealthy Cambodians.
The 60,000-seat main stadium being built by a Chinese construction firm is expected to be completed between 2019 and 2020. This $100 million multipurpose sports complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in Prek Phnov will be fully financed by China.
The Morodok Techo national sports complex will have an outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool, a football pitch, a running track, tennis courts and dormitories for athletes.
“We have planned events in several provinces including Kampong Cham, Siem Reap and Kampot. We would like the people from all over the country to get involved in this mega event,” Vath Chamroeun, the NOCC secretary-general, told the Post yesterday.
“Under the master plan, we have identified 30 to 35 events. We will include some of our traditional sports. ‘Kun sports’ – which comprise l’bokator, kun Khmer and other styles – will be a medal sport for the first time in SEA Games history. We will have Khmer chess as a demonstration sport,” Chamroeun said.
As envisaged in the master plan, the top priority of the country’s prime sports body is to considerably boost the medal-winning capacity of Cambodian athletes.
Cambodia’s all-time medals tally from 14 SEA Games stands at 327 medals, of which only 14 are gold and 47 silver.
Thailand has garnered 5,661 medals, including 2,089 golds, from 28 SEA Games. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Myanmar have all achieved four-figure medal tallies.
“Our emphasis will be on identifying talented athletes and giving them the best training possible at home and abroad, and provide them with good coaches,’’ the NOCC secretary-general said.
The NOCC has a four-point strategy to boost the medal-winning capacity of national athletes.
Athletics and swimming have been marked out for special attention, as these disciplines account for as many 70 medals.
The NOCC also recognises that female athletes have a greater potential to win medals. As a logical step forward, the focus will be more on strengthening the skill levels of female athletes.
The NOCC is also to keen to encourage more boxers to get involved in heavier weight categories where the medal prospects are greater.
A greater push will also be made towards football in the team events. Vath Chamroeun said a lot of effort will be made to strengthen the national football team and pivot towards a medal in a sport that is considered the most prestigious for any country, especially as the host nation.