Players from the Pannasastra University rugby team run training drills at Olympic Stadium.
Cambodia's rugby administrators have set their sights on a predominantly Khmer national
team playing in rugby union's 2011 World Cup.
Nine years ago, when rugby was formally introduced to Cambodia, most players were
foreigners. Today, most are Cambodian.
Tim Smyth, president of the Royal Rugby Club of Cambodia, said the kingdom's fledgling
national team would play its first ever test match in Laos this May.
Smyth is a board member of the Cambodian Federation of Rugby (CFR), which is a full
member of the Asian Rugby Football Union.
"[Our] objective is within two years to become an observer of the International
Rugby Board (IRB) and with that receive additional funding and support," said
"Then at some stage in the future [we hope to] become a full member of the IRB
when Cambodia fulfils [the IRB's] membership requirements."
These requirements include successfully hosting an international match and attaining
high levels of administrative, competitive and financial development, said Smyth.
It's unlikely Cambodian rugby will make the international grade before the next World
Cup in 2007, but Smyth hopes the country will be ready to field a team for the qualifying
rounds of the following event in 2011.
There is little doubt soccer has a far greater participation rate in Cambodia than
rugby. At a recent Old Stadium training session, players from Pannasastra University's
new rugby team competed for space with dozens of soccer-mad youngsters.
But Smyth said the CFR was now the largest organized sporting league in the country.
Smyth, an Australian, is himself a convert to the game. "I didn't play rugby
until I came to Indochina," said Smith.
Cambodia's first foray into rugby was made by a small group of expatriates from Australia,
France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in 1996.
In January 2000, Philippe Monnin, now general-secretary of the CFR, established a
junior competition for street children, with assistance from the NGO Pour un Sourire
d'Enfant (For the Smile of a Child).
A seven-a-side senior competition followed in 2003.
There are now more than 100 senior players representing eight teams in addition to
hundreds of youngsters of varying age from across Cambodia.
Young players are trucked from province to province for matches with the help of
UNESCO, which provides assistance with transportation, food and water for players.
A typical 13-member senior squad includes three foreigners and 10 Cambodians, many
of whom began playing the sport as juniors.
A maximum of two foreigners is permitted on the field at any one time.
"The objective of having [expatriates on the senior teams] is to give more skill
to the Khmers and help the development of rugby [in Cambodia]," said Smyth.
It is a strategy that has been recognized by the IRB, which in 2003 bestowed its
international development award upon Cambodian rugby's stewards.
The CFR's ultimate goal is to produce a squad of talented Khmer players from its
senior ranks, who in time would form the bulk of a future Cambodian IRB-recognized
And with university students now in the ranks, there are hopes that Cambodian administration
of the sport is not far off.
Ray Leos, co-coach of the Pannasastra University team, said his players were potentially
the future officials and referees of the game in Cambodia.
"The key is raising the consciousness of people about the sport," said
Leos. "The potential is unlimited."