Amid great fanfare and grand display of Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage, Prime Minister Hun Sen unveiled the inaugural National Games at a jam-packed Olympic Stadium on Friday evening, marking the beginning of a seven-year journey towards the Kingdom hosting the 2023 SEA Games.
As traditional dancers and a young generation of artists built up an eclectic atmosphere around the iconic Vann Molyann-designed venue built in the early 1960s, the PM and his wife, Bun Rany, emerged at around 5pm to a dramatic soundtrack to preside over the official opening of the Games, which began with songs from pop stars Preap Sovath and Laura Mam.
Following dance routines and several forms of martial arts demonstrations, including l’bokator warriors in traditional fighting outfits, close to 2,500 athletes taking part in 15 disciplines over 189 categories marched into the stadium carrying flags representing the country’s 25 provinces.
The most spectacular sight of the evening was that of eight paratroopers jumping out of a helicopter carrying the flags of Cambodia, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia and the Olympic movement and landing on the pitch.
In his opening remarks, Tourism Minister and NOCC president Thong Khon stressed the importance of spreading the Olympic message through nationally coordinated events like the National Games.
The prime minister, in his address, described the National Games as a historic event and the beginning of a new era in the development of Cambodian sports.
“This is also a political message to clarify and show the peace and stability of our nation. There is no individual or group that can capture Cambodia as a hostage,” the premier said, without elaborating.
In a direct appeal to the country’s young population, the prime minister encouraged each and every person to get involved in at least one sporting activity so as to develop a culture of sport, while calling on the corporate and private sectors for their support.
The ceremony’s finale came with a colourful display of fireworks and taekwondo star Sorn Seavmey, the country’s first and only Asian Games gold medallist and 2016 Olympic Games qualifier, lighting the Games cauldron after a torch relay that included former athletes going back decades and current stars such as international footballer Chan Vathanaka.
The Games is the biggest sporting event to be held on Cambodian soil since the 1960s, when the then-prince Norodom Sihanouk hosted the 1966 Games of the New Emerging Forces, which gathered some of the world’s “non-aligned” nations during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, competitions are well underway in all the disciplines, with the swimmers making their splash at the Techo Sen Swimming Center in Kampong Cham.