Time will tell how history will judge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long political innings, but it can be argued that he will rank as one of the staunchest supporters of Cambodian sport, one who has arguably done more than anyone to positively change its image.
In recognition of the prime minister’s contributions and efforts in promoting the Olympic Movement in Cambodia, the International Olympic Committee has bestowed its highest honour by awarding him the IOC President’s Cup, which will be presented on Wednesday at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh by IOC executive board member Ng Ser Miang.
Aside from ministerial colleagues, scores of high-ranking officials, high-profile guests and hundreds of sports men and women are expected to attend the awards ceremony, which starts at 3pm.
“It’s a matter of great pride for the entire nation and the sports fraternity that our prime minister has been chosen for this IOC honour and also a reflection of how well his leadership has inspired the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia in its steady development,” secretary-general of NOCC Vath Chamroeun told the Post yesterday.
“First of all we have to be thankful that the PM gifted us the six-storey NOCC headquarters building, changing the administrative dynamic, and his setting of the timeline for Cambodia hosting the 2023 SEA Games has now given us a clear vision of where we are heading,” the NOCC secretary-general said.
“Without his timely help, valuable advice and his power to persuade federations to work hard, we would not have achieved our four-year strategic goal between 2013 and 2016, which included winning an Asian Games gold medal, Olympic qualification and the holding of the National Games.’’
Of huge significance to Cambodian sport is the massive infrastructure development that the prime minister set forth by securing Chinese financial assistance to build a massive 60,000-seat multipurpose stadium on the outskirts of Phnom Penh at an estimated cost of $100 million.
Hun Sen has already assured the NOCC that the stadium will be turned over to the prime sports body after the 2023 Games, a move that has been hailed by the sporting community as the greatest gift it will have received.
It has now been nearly 10 years since Hun Sen’s first grand design to benefit athletes performing well on the international stage was rolled out before the departure of the Doha Asian Games contingent in 2006. At his initiative, the government sub-decree on financial incentives was modified, with a 200 per cent upgrade in 2013 ensuring that eye-catching performances would not go unrewarded.
Sport has never been far from the hectic political life of the prime minister, who in his youth regularly played football and volleyball, even taking to the more leisurely petanque now and then. Traditional Khmer chess has also been a favourite. Over the past few years his interest in golf has grown sharply and he never misses an opportunity to swing a club.
The prime minister has endeared himself to the sports fraternity as one of its firm supporters, often opening his own wallet to reward outstanding performances for both individual and team successes.