The opening ceremony of the “free” SEA Games 2023 in Phnom Penh earned praise from people from all walks of life, both locally and abroad, officials said, with the Kingdom having waited 64 years to host the spectacular regional sporting extravaganza. The biennial multi-sport event kicked off on May 5 and will continue through May 17.

The opening was presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany, Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith and delegates from various regional sporting bodies.

“Long live the Kingdom of Cambodia! ‘Sport: Live in peace’, peace for all and all for peace”, said the premier, in reference to the motto of the ongoing 32nd SEA Games and the upcoming 12th ASEAN Para Games, which will run from June 3-9.

He welcomed athletes from all over the world and extended his greetings to the participants of the event, as well as to citizens across the Kingdom and all members of the Cambodian diaspora living abroad.

“On behalf of the King and the Royal Government of Cambodia, I officially announce the opening of the 32nd SEA Games 2023,” he declared.

Addressing the event, first vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, Ng Ser Miang, presented the prime minister with the Pierre de Coubertin medal, for his achievement in organising the regional multi-sport events.

Ng congratulated Cambodia and the people for hosting the SEA Games and thanked Hun Sen for his vision, leadership and foresight in organising the Kingdom’ s first SEA Games.

“In so doing, you have brought Cambodia’s sporting aspirations to reality,” he said.

“Let us celebrate these SEA Games, and through sports, promote peace and foster friendship. I thank the people of Cambodia for their warm, kind and wonderful hospitality and wished them continuous prosperity and happiness,” he said.

Ng wished the athletes every success in their respective sports, and urged them to compete under the guidance of the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.

“To one and all, I wish you a memorable and spectacular Southeast Asian Games. I have every confidence that they will match the remarkable and impressive opening ceremony we witnessed tonight,” he said.

Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism and permanent vice-president of both the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games organising committees (CAMSOC-CAMAPGOC), said the 32nd SEA Games has brought together 10,890 athletes and officials, with 579 events of 36 sports due to be contested. He noted that the event has given the region the chance to develop the sports sector, for the benefit of all people.

“The celebration of this event allows the Southeast Asian community to strengthen the spirit of peace, unity and stability. This spirit is in line with the motto of the 32nd SEA Games: Sport: live in peace,” he said.

“Through sports, we join together, we grow together. Through sports, we make efforts together for a society of harmony, strength and peace. Our responsibility, creativity and resilience to challenges are fundamental to the identity and uniqueness of the Southeast Asian region,” he added.

Hannah Yeoh, Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sport, shared her gratefulness to the Kingdom for the “magnificent” opening ceremony.

Jessa Khan bursts into tears after winning the gold medal in the women’s Ju-Jitsu ne-waza no gi under 52kg at the 32rd SEA Games in Phnom Penh on May 7. Hong Menea

“I want to congratulate the government of Cambodia and the organisers of the opening ceremony. It was so well done, so impressive and so colourful! Congratulations,” she said.

“The people here are so friendly and we can see their excitement in their eyes. This was reflected in the spectacular ceremony they put together for their nation. I think there are a lot of great days ahead for Cambodia, and I wish you success,” she added.

Dito Ariotedjo, Minister of Youth and Sports Affairs of Indonesia, also attended the opening ceremony. He offered his congratulations to the government and CAMSOC for creating the “incredible” show.

“It was fantastic and amazing,” he said.

US ambassador to Cambodia W Patrick Murphy, who also attended the opening, took to social media to congratulate the Kingdom immediately after the show.

“Our US Embassy delegation in Phnom Penh enjoyed the spectacular opening ceremonies of the SEA Games 2023, hosted in Cambodia for the first time! We’ll be cheering on athletes from the Kingdom and 10 other Southeast Asian countries,” he tweeted.

UN resident coordinator in Cambodia Joseph Scheuer echoed the sentiment.

“The 32nd SEA Games 2023 have begun. A fantastic opening ceremony last night. A proud moment for Cambodia, which is hosting for the first time in 64 years. Best of wishes to all the athletes. May the games begin, and Cambodia win!” he said in a tweet.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina also went online to share his pleasure at the spectacular ceremony.

“Amazing Cambodia! Happy 32nd SEA Games. Bad mouths can say whatever, but as Cambodian people, we are proud of our Nation’s achievements,” he tweeted.

The day following the ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement, announcing that the opening ceremony had “captured the hearts” of all of the domestic and international guests who witnessed it.

“The performance presented the glorious history of our Khmer ancestors and showed the world the progress of modern Cambodia. The SEA Games mark an historic event that the Cambodian people have been waiting for for 64 years,” he said.

“Every Cambodian is proud and excited to see such a historical event happening here for the first time. Remember, we are all the hosts of this great event, so please join us in supporting the games with a proud smile. Do not forget to maintain the dignity of our nation,” he added.

Minister of National Defence Tea Banh, who also heads CAMSOC-CAMAPGOC, said at the function that the hosting of the SEA Games was not just about organising a sporting event, but also showcasing a historical spectacle that is unique to Cambodian culture, and promoting the Kingdom’s national identity to the world.

He added that the event has also led to an exchange of culture, tourism, trade and cooperation among Southeast Asian countries, which has contributed to an increase in opportunities for closer, deeper communications.

“Cambodia has been waiting for 64 years to host the SEA Games. Finally, our dreams have come true. Cambodians all over the country are excited. Let us all unite as one as a great force of solidarity, friendship and cooperation through the development of sports,” he said.