The government on Friday responded to comments made by Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticising Cambodia national football team coach Keisuke Honda’s links to “world-class human rights abuser” Sao Sokha.
Honda, who still plays professional football in Australia, accepted the role of Cambodia national team coach in August, appearing at a press conference with Cambodia Football Federation president Sao Sokha.
The statement presented by government spokesman Phay Siphan said the Cambodian government rejected the accusations levelled against Sao Sokha.
“HRW untruly attacks and insults the efforts of Sao Sokha who voluntarily spends his own money and valuable time to organise and run the federation. The statement is a subversive campaign against the Khmer youth movements in the sports sector,” the statement read.
The government’s response comes following a letter sent by HRW to high-profile Japanese footballer Honda on December 3, criticising his decision to become the new Cambodia head coach, as well as his close relationship with Sokha.
HRW Asia Division executive director Brad Adams said in a press conference discussing the letter on December 16: “Seeing a photo of Keisuke Honda with such a notorious human rights abuser as Sokha in August at a news conference was shocking.
“We have expressed concern about the credibility a world-famous football star may give to a world-class human rights abuser and the message that sends to Cambodia’s long-suffering people.”
Honda is a leading star in Japanese football and earned 98 caps for Japan’s national team between 2008 and 2018. He has played for professional teams in the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, and Australia.
In response to HRW’s accusations, the government questioned the organisation’s credibility.
“The statement of the HRW Asia division executive director – a private organisation that regards itself as the human rights police in Asia – clearly shows its hostile character."
“The statement is a terrible and shameful act, and it is unacceptable for the Cambodian people,” the government statement read.
In addition to his involvement in Cambodian football, Sao Sokha is currently Royal Cambodian Armed Forces
deputy supreme commander, Royal Khmer Gendarmerie commander, and a close associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
He told The Post on Sunday that he does not wish to respond to the accusations.
“Please ask Brad Adams because he is the one talking. I do not know anything, he has not spoken with me, but he has mentioned my name. I do not have an obligation to explain anything because I am not the one who started talking,” he said.
Sokha compared Adams’ comments to that of a spectator who criticises the players.
“It is like this – I am a footballer, but the one talking about me is not a footballer. He watches the match and criticises, but he has no experience in the game."
“I do not respond and I do not want to be famous because I already am famous. I do not need to ask someone to speak for me to become popular because I have my own popularity, so I say nothing,” Sokha said.
Cambodia football spokesman Sok Kunthea said HRW should not link sports with politics.
“If HRW has a problem with Sao Sokha, the organisation should send the letter to Fifa to solve the case. We should not link sports with politics because these two should be separate,” he said.