With Prime Minister Hun Sen having presided over the 502-day countdown ceremony on Saturday, the Kingdom’s chief sports administrator said Cambodia hosting the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and ASEAN Para Games was “a dream come true”.
Cambodia was one of the founders of the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games Federation, the forerunner to the current regional sports body, and the Kingdom was to host the Games in 1963 before they were cancelled due to the political situation at the time.
With the Kingdom now enjoying stability and rapid development, “Sport: Live In Peace” was chosen as the slogan for the 2023 Cambodia Games to highlight how peace has been crucial for the Kingdom’s remarkable transformation.
Vath Chamroeun, the secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), hailed the huge importance of Cambodia finally hosting the event 60 years later.
“The government’s focus had been on developing other key sectors such as education and health. But recently it was felt the time was right, and it was announced at the SEA Games Federation Council meeting in Singapore in 2015 that we would indeed host the SEA Games.
“By hosting these Games, it really awakens in people the importance of sport in developing a nation’s society and its economy, and what sport means for the legacy of a country.
“We have been waiting 64 years since becoming one of the six founding members of the regional sports body in 1959, so to finally have the chance to host the SEA Games is a dream come true, for me and for Cambodia,” said Chamroeun.
Saturday’s event also served to inaugurate the 60,000-seat Morodok Techo National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh – built as the centrepiece of the Games – with some 8,000 athletes across 40 sports set to convene in the Kingdom to contest the 32nd edition. More than 2,000 para athletes are due to compete in the 12th ASEAN Para Games.
And Chamroeun – a former wrestler who represented Cambodia at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics – said it was essential to host events such as the SEA Games to grow sport in the Kingdom.
“For me, it has been a long-held dream to host the SEA Games. For smaller sporting countries like Cambodia, the way to really develop sport is to host events like the SEA Games.
“As a sportsman, I fully appreciate the value of sport and the benefits it brings to society, as well as the importance of hosting the Games in helping secure a bright future for the Kingdom’s sporting scene,” said Chamroeun.
Setting the stage
Chmroeun revealed that the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) has proposed two initiatives that will set the stage for future Games.
CAMSOC is calling for the members of the Southeast Asian Games Federation (SEAGF) to jointly compose a theme song to be used for the 2023 edition and beyond.
CAMSOC is also pushing SEAGF members to allow sales of SEA Games television broadcast rights starting from 2023 on a profit-sharing model between the host country, SEAGF and its members to ensure financial sustainability in organising the Games.
Chamroeun said that while Cambodia intends to add ITF taekwondo to the 2023 SEA Games programme, it is facing resistance from the SEAGF and even from countries outside the region.
The host country has traditionally been allowed to include new sports that would help with the medal tally, and being the second ranked country in the world at ITF taekwondo, he said Cambodia should be able to add the sport without “political” interference.
In the most recently held SEA Games in the Philippines in 2019, Cambodia came a respectable eighth, with 46 medals.
Chamroeun said he expected Cambodia to again be strong in petanque and martial arts such as taekwondo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, while the Kingdom’s footballers would be eager to go a step further.
“The Koupreys” made it to the semifinal bronze medal match with Myanmar but were cruelly denied a medal after losing 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
While the Indonesia Sea Games represented Cambodia’s best medal haul since the 2013 edition in Myanmar, Chamroeun said the Kingdom’s sports bodies have been striving hard to improve on this strong performance.
“We have had special development programmes for training our athletes in place for the past four years to improve their capacity.
“With the countdown to the Games having begun, we are sending around 100 athletes across 12 sports to China for a year’s intensive training, while the focus on international competition has been strengthened to maximise our chances of medals.
“And with NOCC president and Minister of Tourism HE Dr Thong Khon having much experience in organising large events and being well versed in showcasing Cambodian hospitality, we are confident the 2023 Cambodia SEA Games will be a great success,” Chamroeun said.