Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport.
Despite strong reactions from the Thai side – and threats of a boycott – the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) says it will not be budged.
CAMSOC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun said the decision had been affirmed in an informed letter shared with all of the participating nations. The letter explained that the term “Kun Khmer” was chosen as an expression of the host country’s national identity.
“Even if the Thai sporting federation takes issue with our decision and threatens to boycott, Kun Khmer will remain an event at the 32nd SEA Games. According to the rules, if there are four or more participating countries, it is eligible for the games. So far, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia are planning to enter, so we don’t care if one nation decides not to take part,” he stressed.
The firm position followed strong reactions from Thai officials.
Sakchye Tapsuwan, president of the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) and the Amateur Muaythai Association of Thailand, threatened a boycott in an interview with Thai PBS Sport on January 21.
“The association will not send athletes to compete. We have spoken with the Olympic Committee of Thailand and they concur. We will not send athletes to Cambodia,” he said.
The IFMA also announced that it will impose fines on all countries that send kickboxers to the games in Cambodia. Citing the SEA Games rules, it said both Khmer boxing and kickboxing in the SEA Games shall use the name Muay or Muay Thai.
“The IFMA has sent a letter to the countries of the ASEAN region, warning them that if they opt to participate, they will not be allowed to participate at the IFMA's sporting events, especially the upcoming Asian Indoor Games,” said Sakchye.
Chamroeun did not express any concern over the withdrawal of the Thai boxing team, saying that it was up to each country to decide whether or not to participate in any sport. However, he made it clear that Cambodia would not send kickboxers to the 33rd SEA Games 2025, to be hosted by Thailand.
“If Thailand includes Muay Thai in the 2025 SEA Games, we will not participate. They decided to boycott us over the name, so we will respond in kind. I am sure that many other countries will participate,” he said.
“We remain united in the development of Kun Khmer and Muay Thai in the form of friendly matches, no matter what. Multi-sport events like the SEA Games are different because we are representing our country. We must adhere to the principles of our nation’s cultural identity,” he concluded.