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Cambodia’s Olympic committee again calls for recognition of l’bokator

A practitioner demonstrates l’bokator at a tournament last year.
A practitioner demonstrates l’bokator at a tournament last year. Sreng Meng Srun

Cambodia’s Olympic committee again calls for recognition of l’bokator

The National Olympic Committee of Cambodia has resubmitted its plea to UNESCO for recognition of Angkoran era martial art l’bokator as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, a status three other local traditions have enjoyed since 2008.

A formal application accompanied by historical evidence to prove the existence of the centuries-old practice in Khmer society, along with the Royal Government’s commitment to promote and preserve the martial art, was handed over to UNESCO last week.

Cambodia’s renewed bid follows several clarifications and additional information sought by UNESCO regarding historical, cultural and social perspectives when considering a plea made at around the same time last year.

The documents presented include a short video and a collection of photographs depicting the nuances of the unique fighting style, and letters of support from several well-regarded social and cultural organisations.

Officials at the Ministry of Culture and an expert from UNESCO in Cambodia scrutinised the documents before they were submitted, according to NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun.

This attempt conclusively deals with several issues UNESCO raised after the first NOCC attempt in 2012 to seek recognition for this nearly 1,000-year-old martial art which is among the world’s most ancient fighting techniques.

“There is a strategic change in the way we are presenting our case to UNESCO this time. The Ministry of Culture coming into this is very significant, so is the steadfast support from the World Martial Arts Union, of which Cambodia is a member,” Chamroeun said.

The cornerstone of Cambodia’s submission is that l’bokator was an extremely popular cultural activity among the people of the Khmer empire and its empirical and historical value must be preserved forever.

After careful examination of the documents by field experts, UNESCO is likely to convey its preliminary ruling by July or September, with the final verdict expected in December 2018.

The NOCC included l’bokator as one of the 22 disciplines in the first ever National Games last year with the logical next big step being its entry to the SEA Games as a medal sport when Cambodia hosts the regional sporting event in 2023.

Over the past nine years UNESCO has recognised three of Cambodia’s most admired traditions, the Royal Ballet, sbek thom (shadow puppetry) and teanh prot (a tug of war activity traditionally taken part in at harvest festivals).

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