Petanque players—Duch Sophorn (left), Hou Hoeun (below) practicing boules on top of their daily work. Meas Sarin (Olympic committee) serves as a referee. Players are feeling let down by lack of support.
Last month, Cambodia returned victoriously from the SEA games in Thailand with fistfuls
of medals-18 in all-including two gold, three silver and two bronze in the traditional
French sport of petanque.
But for the athletes who hurled a heavy metal "boule" down a 15-meter playing
field in front of the crowds, the medals could be the only recognition coming.
Silver medal winner Duch Sophorn told the Post that the players are still waiting
to receive their allotted reward money, which ranges from $250 to $125 for the medal
"Of course I'm disappointed," she said. "We all tried our best-many
won medals-but when we came back it was so quiet."
The 31-year-old petanque player blamed the lack of attention partly on the failure
of local TV stations to air the petanque games, which can be slow going. Petanque
is similar to bocce, except its origins are French and the boule is hurled down field
towards a wooden "cochonnet."
"Still I struggle to train and improve because I love the sport and love competing.
That's why I keep trying. I want to win for my country and for myself."
For many of the Cambodian athletes who participated in the SEAGames in December,
the going was often tough.
Although most of the 26 Cambodian sports federations that competed in the games receive
some level of government support it is meager and some teams-like the body builders-receive
Sok Sopheak said he works full-time as a fitness trainer at the Cambodiana Hotel
and after work, he trains four hours per day, six days a week. To attend the SEA
Games he and two other body-building competitors traveled by bus to Thailand, courtesy
of contributions from the hotel as well as Sopheak's clients and bodybuilding enthusiast
Douglas Latchford (See Q & A Bodybuilders opposite page).
"I learnt from watching other people," said Sopheak. "If I saw someone
training that had nice legs, I would follow what he does to work on my legs. If he
had good arms, I would follow what he does to build up my arms. Now I know how to
work on every muscle."
But he said that just getting a training diet is tough. "We only have rice for
protein. Other Asian athletes have a good diet plan and supplements so it is hard
to compete because we can not afford them."
Em Heang, the petanque coach, said while training for international competitions
the players get a monthly allowance of $30 plus a daily food allowance of $3.75.
One of the players is Hou Hoeun, at 59, the oldest on the team. He drives a moto
for a living and practices in the evening. He has represented Cambodia three times
in the SEA games, winning one silver and one bronze.
Although official prize money is normally awarded by the Cambodian government to
medal winners, a month after the end of the games, as of press time, no prize money
had been awarded. "When we compete we try our best. I want the government officials
to pay more attention and congratulate us, but so far we have received nothing,"
said Sophorn. The Cambodian government spent $450,000 on SEA game athletes last year.
Attending the games were 318 Cambodian athletes, coaches and support staff representing
Medal winners included Petanque: 2 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze. Taekwondo: 1 silver,
2 bronze; wrestling: 3 bronze. The athletics team won 1 silver, 1 bronze. Tennis,
Boxing and Beach Volleyball, 1 bronze each.