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Japanese sports package 'wasteful'

Japanese sports package 'wasteful'

JAPAN has sanctioned a costly sport-aid package for Cambodia, despite calls from

National Olympic Committee foreign advisers that the NOC's equipment order is wasteful.

The 51.5m Yen ($414,486) grant was given although Tokyo's embassy to Phnom Penh was

advised against it by a group of expatriate sportsmen working with various federations

at the Olympic Stadium.

"Somebody is providing Cambodia with the finances to set up an entire national

program in certain sports," said Cathal Kerr, an Irish track-and-field expert

who has worked with the Cambodian Athletics Federation since Sept 1995.

"The National Olympic Committee and the Japanese Embassy have agreed to spend

some of this money [in a way] that it will be completely inappropriate and will make

minimal difference to Cambodia."

The Japanese dismiss criticism from Kerr and others as "foreign arrogance"

in Cambodian affairs, and have already certified NOC's list of sporting goods to

be shipped from Yokohama by year's end.

According to copies of NOC documents obtained by the Post, the grant application

- filed in Oct 1995 by First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the acting

president of NOC - includes sporting items destined to nine federations, which experts

say are overpriced.

Among a host of items, NOC will get:

A Japanese Amateur Boxing Federation-approved ring worth $42,655, together with six

sets of cup protectors priced at some $113 each.

A new badminton court at $7,163; 50 table tennis nets at $104 each and only four

new ping-pong tables at $1,457 each.

In the most expensive categories - athletics, wrestling, and gymnastics respectively

- an $8,000 urethane high-jump pit is on its way, along with 100 official hurdles

at $407 apiece.

Plus, there's an official wrestling mat at $24,000 - although the NOC reportedly

already has one - two sets of landing mats totaling some $24,000, and a so-called

"double flex swing floor" that takes the lion's share at $84,500.

As far as Japan, Cambodia's biggest international donor, is concerned, there's no

going back on the deal.

"We don't think it is wasteful," said Masoto Iso, first secretary at the

Japanese embassy. "We have no intention to change the list."

Japan is also not to blame, he reasoned, even if NOC has placed an order for sporting

goods which Kerr and others have roundly criticized as extravagant.

"This is an internal affair of the Cambodian side," he maintained. "They

don't see any need to change the list, so we cannot interfere."

Tokyo is sticking by NOC's original list of equipment, even though Makoto Takahashi,

a Japanese volunteer assigned to Olympic Stadium as table tennis coach, joined other

foreign advisors in protest. He recommended sweeping changes in a report presented

to the embassy before he returned home in January.

"I am very interested in changing the list, because the original document does

not meet the real requirements which Cambodian [sports persons] need," Takahashi

told the embassy Jan 10.

"In fact, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia did not make this document,"

he noted. "One Japanese company made this document."

According to the advisors, in the run-up to the 1995 Southeast Asian Games in Chiang

Mai, NOC secretary-general Meas Sarin was approached by sales agents from an unspecified

Japanese sports firm.

"Recommendations" were made and an inventory of sporting equipment drawn.

It was submitted Oct 9, 1995 to then-Ambassador Yukio Imagawa in NOC's application

for Japanese aid.

The advisors claim they were kept in the dark, and that no one at the NOC secretariat

has the know-how to make expert recommendations.

When reached for comment, Sarin denied the allegation that key federations were never

consulted. Without naming names, he conceded that a "Japanese company proposed

to make the list of items for us."

The advisors are convinced that the Japanese grant could go a lot further to overhaul

the Olympic Stadium's derelict facilities if more modest, but suitable, items were

ordered.

In the opinion of Jim Cuthill, an Australian gymnastics coach, the entire gym could

be properly equipped on half the allotted Japanese aid money.

"The amount of money being spent for what they are getting is very high and

they'll be throwing away money," he said. "They are going to provide enough

money to fully equip the gym, but they're not going to end up fully equipping it."

To Kerr, whose revisions to the NOC list were endorsed by the Asian Amateur Athletics

Federation (AAAF), the lavishness and lack of foresight on the part of NOC officials

could tarnish Cambodia's image on the international sporting scene and jeopardize

future funding from AAAF and other organizations.

Kerr noted his recommendation that the $407 hurdles, for instance, should not cost

more than $100 per unit was approved by AAAF.

"If a world body with $6m to spend, like the International Amateur Athletics

Federation, sees that Cambodian Athletics is going to get $50,000 worth of equipment,

and all it can see is a set of hurdles around a track, one landing bed, and four

shot puts, why should it buy the Cambodians javelins?" Kerr said.

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