Eight teams of land mine and polio victims will kick-start the nation's first disabled
National Volleyball League on July 6, competing not only for the national title but
for the chance to represent Cambodia in South Korea later in the year.
Disabled volleyball players line up in their new uniforms.
The league is an initiative of Veterans International (VI) Cambodia Sports for Life
Advisor Christopher Minko said the aim was to establish disabled volleyball as Cambodia's
premier spectator sport.
"What we are doing out of the tragedy of land mines is making something very
positive via sport," he said. "It is rebuilding [the players'] self-esteem
and they are role models now for the disabled people in Cambodia."
Over 200,000 people around the country have a disability, according to the Disability
Action Council. VI said that every Khmer family either has a member who is disabled
or knows a disabled person.
Perhaps because of this high rate the country has a very strong record in disabled
volleyball. The national team is currently ranked fourth in the world and competed
at the Sydney paralympics and in Slovakia in 2001.
The league is being promoted as a breeding ground for the creation of a world number
one team, as a new national side of 12 athletes will be picked at its conclusion
in late July.
"The blunt reality is I doubt whether an able-bodied Cambodian will ever win
gold at an international standard, but disabled athletes are already winning gold,"
said VI's Minko.
"I firmly believe that Cambodia can become one of the leading nations in disability
sport in Asia and also in the world," said Minko. "We expect the volleyball
team to be number one in Asia by October and number one in the world by the world
cup in 2004. It is an attainable objective."
The games are played to international regulations and will be held at the Kien Khleang
Rehabilitation Center in Phnom Penh. Each of the five provincial and three city-based
teams has a salaried coach and two ex-national team members.
Chuoy Kim Horn, 37, is the coach and captain of the Sunway Hotel team. A former soldier,
Horn lost his right leg in a landmine accident 12 years ago and has been playing
volleyball since 1994.
"The league will give the opportunity to disabled people to take part in volleyball
both nationally and internationally," he said. "I went to Sydney and Slovakia
with the national team and hope I will go to South Korea. My league team is hopeful
we will win the games but all the teams are strong."
Minko said that disabled volleyball had huge benefit for society and stressed that
the games would be open to the public.
"It is a team sport which has a strong unifying factor particularly among old
foes," he said. "We have ex-Khmer Rouge child soldiers, ex-loyalist soldiers
and ex-CPP soldiers all mixed together and they have transcended that."