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
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.