Tennis playing veteran Yi Sarun (left) and TFC General Secretary Tep Rithivit are filmed by a CNN camera crew as they visit the Choeung Ek genocide memorial park on Thursday.
Photo by: Chheang Sowann
THE Tennis Federation of Cambodia paid an emotional visit to the Choeung Ek genocide memorial park, also known as the Killing Fields, last Thursday as part of their recordings for a CNN programme to be aired next month.
65-year-old tennis player and Khmer Rouge survivor Yi Sarun was accompanied by TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit, who admittedly lost nearly a dozen of his family during the Khmer Rouge atrocities. With his eyes welling up with tears, voice breaking up and clearly overwhelmed with sadness, Tep Rithivit said: “Some of my relatives could be right here or, for that matter, some of the dozens of tennis players at the time who vanished without a trace could be here.”
Estimates believe that of the 40 odd players who were active on the courts in those days, only three survived - Yi Sarun, his younger brother Yi Sarin, and national team player Pel Oum.
“Because of its elitist tag, tennis and its players were obvious targets [for execution]. What is so tragic is that their identities have been destroyed and we have been left with nothing to remember them,” said Tep Rithivit.
“The revival of tennis is a tribute to those who perished and it is that spirit which is ingrained in our ‘Killing Fields to Tennis Courts’ message.”
The TFC started a vigorous campaign to spread this message with specially printed T-shirts endorsed by top tennis stars including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The newly named TFC goodwill ambassador Leander Paes proudly sported a T-shirt during his recent visit.
“It is an eerie feeling as I walk past these graves. I could have been in one of them,” said Yi Sarun as he fought back tears. “I have nothing left from those hard days. I had to destroy all things tennis – my kit, photographs and trophies – to save my skin.”
The oldest active player in the Kingdom, who has never lost his zest for tennis through those years of hardship, grabbed centre stage last week with Leander Paes showering him with praise and the CNN team meticulously capturing his life and times on camera for an episode that is bound to stir passions all over the world. Yi Sarun could well prove to be a talisman for the now thriving TFC.