Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the public, especially boxing fans, to end their war of words on social media regarding the decision of a referee in a Khmer New Year fight in Siem Reap province that resulted in an injury to a Cambodia boxer who was set to fight in next month’s SEA Games.

On the evening of April 16, Chhoeurng Lvey faced off against his Thai opponent Samy Banchamek. At one point, Lvey knocked Samy to the ground. Lvey looked set to knock Samy out, but the referee halted the fight. Later in the fifth round, Samy was able to strike Lvey in the leg with a well-placed kick. With the Khmer fighter unable to return to the fray after a standing 10 count, Samy was awarded the win.

Following the fight, several people took to social media and criticised the referee, with some even accusing him of favouring the Thai fighter. Hun Sen said he agreed with the referee’s decision, and that he was right to stop Lvey when he did.

The premier explained that all sports must be subject to rules.

“We cannot continue to strike an opponent when he is down. This is immoral and could result in serious injury or even death. We cannot attack someone who is incapable of fighting back, and the rules are very clear on this,” he said.

He added that if such a death happened in Cambodia, it would be far more serious than even the allegations that a referee had accepted a bribe.

“When one fighter loses his feet, we cannot continue to strike him. We must respect the rules of the sport and fight for a fair win. There is no virtue in winning through unsportsmanlike behaviour, so I ask for people to be more understanding,” he added.

He continued that the referee had the authority to umpire a bout and use his own discretion, and that he had to be respected.

“If the referee had held Lvey down and let Samy strike him, it would be a clear misuse of his authority. In this instance, Samy had lost his footing, and one of the referee’s most important duties is to keep both fighters safe,” he said.

Hun Sen added that it was normal in any sport that the side who appeared to be losing could recover their strength and dominate the match. In this case, it was unfortunate that Lvey’s Thai opponent was able to find the energy to win the match, he noted.

“We should not be endlessly debating this matter on social media. When the Thai boxer lost the ability to fight, the referee may have saved his life. This is perfectly reasonable. I ask that the public understand this and that Lvey’s fans stop treating the referee as if he is their enemy. Please calm down,” he urged.

Hun Sen also commended the decision of Khmer Boxing Federation honorary vice-president Srey Chanthorn, who called for the fighters who have been selected for next month’s games to avoid fighting from now on, in order to avoid the risk of injury.

“Otherwise, the boxers who are set to compete might lose their chance to compete at the SEA Games, like what has happened to Chhoeurng Lvey. Will his legs heal ahead of the games?” he added.

He asked the federation to pay close attention to the schedules of boxers who are set to compete in the upcoming SEA Games, their first chance to fight for glory on home soil.

“Fighters or promoters who disregard these instructions may be sanctioned at the national level,” he warned.