TFC President Cham Prasidh (left) and Secretary General Tep Rithivit attend the Tennis 10s camp at ASPECA school in Kep. PHOTO SUPLLIED BY TFC
Children learn new skills during the TFC Tennis 10s camp at ASPECA school in Kep on April 3. PHOTO SUPLLIED BY TFC
The Tennis Federation of Cambodia has announced the launch of a vigorous campaign to promote tennis for all at the start of Khmer New Year. TFC President Cham Prasidh and Secretary General Tep Rithivit talk passionately about the federation’s accomplishments and future aims in this exclusive interview with The Post sports writer H S Manjunath.
The TFC launched its first Tennis 10s programme at Kep last week. What are your first impressions of the response from the kids and the ASPECA school where the camp was held?
The launch of our Tennis 10s programme in Kep is a significant step towards our Cambodian Tennis Vision. We have a clear road map in that aspect – it is to popularise tennis and make it available to everyone.
Tennis in schools is our main goal for grassroots development. If we can provide tennis to a large number of kids we will have more chances to identify good potential.
Moreover, it is about providing new opportunities to Cambodian children, a chance for them to practice a sport and stay away from trouble and adding a new and different dimension to their everyday lives. It could also be a new means to enhance their livelihood in the future as some of them may end up as tennis coaches one day.
As for the kids’ response, it was just magical to see the expression of discovery and fun in their eyes.
Do you have a time frame in mind to extend this program to other provinces?
We will kick-start the mini tennis programme this year in several provinces. Our goal is not necessarily the number, it is all about sustainability. Therefore, we have three-year period to work in these schools and selected provinces.
What we do not want is to take tennis to a place for 6-7 months and not be able to make it available afterwards. Less will be more if we can sustain that programme on a long term.
Grassroots development is part of the TFC’s junior tennis initiative. How significant is this project for overall development?
It is very significant. Without solid grassroots development, our base will not be solid and lasting.
Also, we are completely embracing the ITF Tennis 10’s. We believe in softer balls, smaller rackets and mini nets. They make the game easy to play and kids can rally with each other within a week as we could well see at ASPECA.
You are one of the co-founders of the proposed Grassroots Opportunities Tennis Foundation. Can you walk us through GOTF’s aims and objectives?
The Foundation’s aim is to popularise, identify and provide training facilities for these under-privileged kids so that they can move up in the ranks and perhaps earn a spot in the national team. Our thrust is to have micro-tennis centres in every province for the juniors who are selected through our school programmes. The selected kids will have advance training with our TFC coaching staff.
The best will move on to the National Training Centre [in Phnom Penh] for a full tennis scholarship.
It is well established fact that you have been the TFC’s pathfinder and the Federation has set out on the goals you envisioned. How far do you think the TFC has succeeded in achieving those aims?
We have achieved a lot. I would rather have you be the judge of this.
Cambodia has only 26 tennis courts nationwide, Thailand over 3,000 courts and over 2,000 courts in Vietnam.
We won two Bronze Medals at the last two Southeast Asian Games. We have two world ranking players.
We have built our own international standard training facility with most of our own funds.
Our best players actively go out to international events 20 times a year. We have hired an international coach and Technical Director in Braen Aneiros. We were honoured to receive ‘The Most Improved Federation in Asia’ commendation from the Asian Tennis Federation [last year].
The American news network, CNN, came down here to report about our endeavours. The whole world knows about the Cambodian Tennis rebirth.
I think that these achievements show that we are on the right track, don’t you think?
Are you satisfied with the level of support the TFC has been getting from the private and corporate sectors?
Yes I am. We run the Federation as a small enterprise. We are creating partnerships with our sponsors, they are not sponsors but partners. The few that have risen up to the challenge in this partnership are the people like Ezecom, Pepsi-Cola, ANZ-Royal, Infinity, NagaWorld, etc.
They understand now that we are moving tennis on the domestic and world scene. It is good for them now. It is no longer an ordinary sponsorship with no direction and target. It is a meaningful partnership for us and for them as well.
We have reporting, internal audit, checks and balances and above all, we have integrity. That is why those partners come on board.
However, as our programs get bigger and more meaningful, we will need more partners to develop our programmes. At present, we are still putting our own money to keep the Federation running smoothly, and we feel that it is the leadership required to attract other sponsors. Partners come to us because they see the effort, the investment, the integrity, the time we spend and the results we have accomplished so far. It is not the other way around.
In the past 12 months, the TFC achieved several notable highs – the unveiling of the National Training Centre and the organising of two back-to-back Men’s Futures events being prominent. What are your priorities for the Year of the Rabbit?
Tep Rithivit: My priorities are quite large. Firstly, we have to keep our school mini tennis programmes on line and multiply the successes in the provinces. Simultaneously, we have to keep on sending our best players out to earn more points in competition events in order to have, for instance, a good seed spot at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia in November 2011. We also have to enrich our junior development program as they will be the next in line to step into the national team.
Tennis is like a long term business investment. It took a decade to build what we have built. It takes a decade to have a ranked player and we have two of them. And it will take longer to make tennis a popular sport in our country, but we are very committed to follow the trend and vision of our President.
If we did not start 13 years ago, we would not have met with the success we have now and tennis would have only been a distant souvenir from the 50’s for Cambodia.
We are now eligible for the Davis Cup – no one would have thought that Cambodia will make a difference in the concert of nations. Today, the Davis Cup is one of our priorities for this year end as we will be playing next year in World Group 4.
Secondly, we have to create more local and international events in order to promote the game. We launched our first Tennis 10s competition last month and we are scheduled to have many more under-10s, 12s and 14s events in the months to come.
Naturally, we need to keep on organising our regular tournaments which are now at five per year. Also, we will continue to host Futures events next year as well.
Thirdly, we need to multiply our partnership with sponsors as our programs and activities are increasing dramatically at present. Without their support, we cannot sustain our various programmes.
For the first time in its history, the TFC has been invited to make a presentation at the Annual General Meeting of the International Tennis Federation in Bangkok during September. How significant is this invitation and what are its connotations?
This is certainly the biggest vote of confidence the tennis World governing body can give a Federation. The TFC has been chosen to make a presentation about its success in front of 150 world federations. This speaks volumes about our work.
The TFC is [currently] the poster-child of the ITF and we are very proud of this accomplishment. We want to send a message to the world that Cambodia is not just about genocide and landmines but we are also about hard work, passion and commitment despite the challenges we are confronted with.
With Cambodia’s Davis Cup re-entry marked for 2012, how is the national team build up going?
It is going well. Bun Kenny has just secured his second ATP point. It is an encouraging sign. Our build up is quite satisfactory.
The TFC is set to cast its net worldwide to encourage Cambodian boys and girls living abroad to join the Tennis Teens project you propose to call ‘Share the Magic with TFC’. Has there been a prize catch yet?
Indeed. We are in the process to recruit more off-shore Cambodian talents and we have a few good interests, but I am not in a position to reveal this now for obvious reasons.
I can tell you that we will have a few surprises in line for the next SEA Games in Jakarta. I am happy to say that we are no longer participants, we are now prime contenders.