As the 32nd SEA Games – being hosted by Cambodia for the first time in the event’s 64-year history – draws to a close on May 17, Prime Minister Hun Sen extends his thanks to all those involved in the regional biennial multi-sports extravaganza.

Speaking to more than 3,000 graduates from three national agriculture schools on May 15, the premier highlighted the main triumphs of the games.

One of the major successes, he said, is that the visiting athletes and their sporting delegations are certain to return to their home countries with smiles on their faces.

Another is the medal success of the Kingdom’s athletes on the home soil.

As of the afternoon of May 15, Cambodia stood fourth on the medal table, with 242 medals: 66 gold, 65 silver and 111 bronze. Vietnam tops the list with 311 medals including 119 gold, followed by Thailand with 258 medals, 94 of them gold. Indonesia ranked third, with 225 medals, including 72 gold.

“The number of medals we have earned is one thing, but I am more proud of the fact that our thousands of guests have enjoyed their time here and that the Cambodian people have been inspired to watch – and participate – in sporting events,” said Hun Sen.

In Phnom Penh, sporting events have been held in 12 different locations, while others have featured in Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Kep and Siem Reap provinces, due to favourable terrain for certain events.

Cambodia has spent a total $118 million on hosting the regional sport events, including the provision of free food and accommodation to the visiting athletes and their teams. Entrance to all events was free, and no fees were charged for broadcasting rights. These were all firsts for SEA Games.

The prime minister explained that $30 million has been earmarked from the national budget each year for the next four years.

Hitting back at unnamed critics who suggested that the Kingdom had wasted money on hosting the prestigious event, he pointed out that in fact, less had been spent than by many previous host nations.

“I can assure you that some countries had spent upwards of $200 million hosting the games,” he said, adding that Cambodia is taking a long view with regard to promoting itself to the world, and is looking beyond the games themselves.

He also announced that all foreign athletes and members of sporting delegations coaches will be able to enjoy free admission to the Angkor Archaeological Park, where they can admire the Kingdom’s rich cultural treasures.

“After the games, if athletes want to visit Angkor Wat, they will not be required to purchase passes, but will be admitted for free. I want to make this clear,” he said.

“I have instructed Angkor Enterprises – which is overseen by the APSARA National Authority, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and Ministry of Economy and Finance – not to charge athletes admission. Please note: I am extending this offer to athletes and the other members of their sporting delegations. Fans will still have to contribute,” he explained.

“Cambodia may be a small country, but it has a big heart,” he added.

He reminded the assembled graduates of the first time the world began to learn about the kind hearts of the Cambodian people. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the cruise liner MS Westerdam was allowed to dock at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in Preah Sihanouk province, after being refused entry by several other countries.

“Even though we were fearful of contracting the Covid-19 virus, we know that we had to help the thousands of people who were trapped at sea, and did not hesitate to do so,” he recalled.

He offered thanks to several key members of the games’ organising committee, including Minister of National Defence Tea Banh, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron and finance minister Aun Pornmoniroth.

His also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for providing financial grants of $150 million to construct the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, which will also be used for future sporting events.

He also extended thanks to the Cambodian people – especially the residents of Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Kep and Siem Reap – for making certain that the games went smoothly, as well as the thousands of volunteers who came forward to keep the venues and other public places spotless during the games.

“The general public also played their part, disposing of their rubbish responsibly. We were able to showcase ‘beautiful Cambodia’, and I am very pleased to say that we fulfilled our duties as hosts,” he said.