Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday presided over the 502-day countdown to the Cambodian Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and ASEAN Para Games 2023 in a colourful ceremony at the Kingdom’s ultra-modern new sports facility.

At an event attended by Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia HE Weng Wentian that also saw the official opening of the Morodok Techo National Sports Complex – to be the centrepiece of the Games – the prime minister welcomed the region’s people to share in the Kingdom’s celebrations.

“On behalf of the people of Cambodia, I warmly invite the community of Southeast Asia to witness Cambodia 2023 in person and support your nation’s athletes. We will be deeply honoured by your presence in our country during Cambodia 2023 in celebration of peace.

“Cambodia will maintain the dignity and honour of being host for the first time in history. The nation’s sports federations, athletes, both able-bodied and disabled, please give your best to train, develop your professional skills in sport and fulfil your mission of attending the competition and attaining success,” Hun Sen said.

The countdown ceremony for the 2023 SEA Games was a colourful affair. Hong Menea

With the construction of Morodok Techo National Stadium and the hosting of the SEA Games-Asean Para Games, Cambodia is embarking on a historic new chapter in promoting the Kingdom’s potential and capability on the international stage.

The prime minister presided over a vibrant event attended by more than 20,000 participants and guests, including dignitaries from competing nations and Cambodian athletes.

Cambodia, a founder member of the Southeast Asian Games Federation back in 1959, is hosting the Games for the first time, and is determined to deliver a truly memorable regional sporting extravaganza.

With expert choreography, Cambodia’s rich culture was showcased with an adrenalin-pumping display of martial art bokator and a mesmerising Apsara traditional dance performance, as the ceremony masterfully demonstrated the Kingdom’s ability to put on a show.

The mascots for Cambodia 2023, female and male rabbits dressed in red and blue running shorts – the colours of the Cambodian flag – entertained the crowd.

The main stadium has a seating capacity of 60,000. Hong Menea

Romduol, named after the Cambodian national flower, symbolises beauty, while Borey represents country.

The $150 million, 60,000-capacity main stadium, Cambodia’s largest sports arena, was funded by China, and the prime minister used the occasion to thank the Chinese government and hail a deep-seated friendship.

“This incredible stadium is a result of Cambodia-China cooperation within the Belt and Road Initiative and the Maritime Silk Road, as well as within the framework of the strategic partnership between the two nations.

“I’d like to convey my regards and deepest gratitude to HE Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, who has always supported Cambodia no matter the circumstances,” said the prime minister.

With the start of the 502-day countdown to the Games, the prime minister also launched the promotional campaign for the 32nd SEA Games and the 12th ASEAN Para Games – to be known collectively as Cambodia 2023.

The Morodok Techo National Stadium cost $150 million. Hong Menea

The logo incorporates design elements that draw inspiration from Buddhism, the Kingdom’s official religion, and its teachings.

The combining of both Games logos reflects the position of the disabled community in Cambodia and the importance of diversity, unity and inclusion to the Southeast Asia region.

Phnom Penh’s Independent Monument and Win-Win Memorial are also part of the design, in remembrance of Cambodians’ past struggles in overcoming adversity to become the peaceful nation it is now.

“Sport: Live In Peace” was accordingly chosen as the slogan for Cambodia 2023 to highlight how peace has been the catalyst for the Kingdom’s remarkable transformation.

“We must never forget our past as we enjoy prosperity and are progressing towards middle high-income nation status by 2030,” said the prime minister.

‘Commitment to peace’

With the Cambodia Games and other major events including the 2029 Asian Youth Games to come, Hun Sen spoke of how sport is contributing to the Kingdom’s socio-economic development in line with national strategic plans for poverty reduction to transform Cambodia into a middle high-income country by 2030.

An Apsara performance delighted those in attendance. Hong Menea

“I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Olympic Council of Asia in awarding Cambodia the rights to host the 5th Asian Youth Games 2029 at the recent OCA General Assembly in Dubai.

“Hosting the 5th Asian Youth Games is part of our continued commitment to peace and infrastructure development in Cambodia, which includes the sport sector as well.

“The legacy of hosting the SEA Games and ASEAN Games will continue through to 2029 when we become host of the Asian Youth Games,” Hun Sen said.

And as the prime minister looked to the future, he took time to honour the Kingdom’s athletes of the past.

“On this historic day, I want to take this opportunity to thank our past sporting heroes.

“The hard work, sweat, tears and unselfish sacrifices of our athletes have not gone unnoticed,” he said.

The prime minister’s words were reflected in the announcement that a new Olympic Museum would be built at the Morodok Techo complex to honour the memory of past Cambodian sporting icons, their achievements and sacrifices.

Bokator practitioners entertained the crowd. Hean Rangsey