The secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, Vath Chamroeun, is nearing the completion of his first term in office.
A highly competitive wrestler in his younger days, the US-educated official is playing out a crucial role in the development of the Kingdom’s sports culture now in its transitional phase after decades of devastation.
Chamroeun played a key part in the NOCC adopting the Olympic Statutes at its General Assembly in 2011. He was also instrumental in reviving the near-dead Cambodian Hockey Federation last year and took the lead in the formation of Cambodia’s Cricket Federation, now on the verge of seeking affiliation from the Asian Cricket Council.
Widely travelled and highly respected, Chamroeun has been an influential member of the SEA Games Organising Council. His tireless work in promoting sports tourism was well rewarded last month when he was formally appointed as an adviser to Tourism Minister Thong Khon.
In this exclusive interview with Post’s sports writer H S Manjunath, Vath Chamroeun talks about Cambodia’s London 2012 campaign and its Olympic aspirations for the future.
Participation in the Olympics is a privilege no country in the world can afford to pass up. How significant is London Olympics 2012 for Cambodian sports?
Cambodian people had a tough time getting out of the shadows of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. In fact it was the 2008 Beijing Games which really opened our eyes. Now people realise that Olympics is far more than just a sporting occasion.
London is crucially important because it falls right in the midst of our transition. Of course, we need more time to educate the public in the understanding of the Olympic Movement and its core values. We take pride in our Mission to London 2012.
More athletes than ever before will represent Cambodia in London. Do you see this as a sign of progress?
It is indeed a sign of growth. Right now, it is modest but I am confident the pace of development will pick up. It is also a reflection on our hard work.
Under this NOCC leadership we have secured more Universality placements than any other NOC, and what does it tell you? It tells you that we are heading in the right direction and in a position to do more for the Cambodian people.
Take us through the Cambodian squad’s pre-Games preparations.
We have come to regard quality of training as the key factor in our preparations. I am glad that we could send four of our Olympic hopefuls for a two-week training in China. This is the first time in our history that our athletes could get high-tech facilities to train ahead of a major international event.
Two others are currently in Europe – one in London and the other in Brest, France. I hope this trend continues. I may add here that support from the private sector for our Olympic athletes to prepare is also vital.
How important is this alliance with China?
The Memorandum of Understanding Cambodia and China signed in 2011 on sports cooperation is the best thing that could have happened for Cambodian athletes. This MoU makes way for our sportsmen and women to train at the famed state of the art Beijing Sports University, where facilities are world class.
We have access to high quality coaches and top Chinese athletes. China, as an emerging super power in sports, could be of great help to Cambodia. Our President Thong Khon will be travelling to China soon to explore new areas of cooperation.
What are your expectations from the Cambodian participants as the secretary-general of the NOCC?
I want our athletes to give their all and perform well. Who doesn’t wish for a medal in an Olympics? However, we have to temper our expectations with reality.
What would satisfy me the most is for athletes to perform with dignity, discipline and a sense of national pride. I want them to enjoy the moment at the same time get enlightened and learn from the experience which they can share with the rest of the country.
Every time a Cambodian squad for a major international event is picked, there are always murmurs of favouritism, even fears in some quarters that choices in many cases have little to do with merit. How do you counter this argument?
First of all you cannot please all sections of the society when you make selections. Our aim is to pick the best from the pool of talent and promise that is available. We make choices based on our national interest and we also attach importance to discipline and fair play.
There are lot of international competitions every year. Form and fitness ebb and flow and we keep an overall picture in mind when we choose our athletes for these events.
To inject fairness and transparency, have you given a thought to holding open national trials to choose participants before major events like the Asian Games, SEA Games or Olympics?
The idea sounds good but there are practical problems to deal with. However, our selection process is quite close to a trial concept. We go by their training record, which will reveal their readiness and fitness levels, and we go by their competition record which tells us where exactly they stand.
Another area of criticism is that there is no follow-up action after competitions on the part of NOCC. Do you intend changing this ‘One event’ stand and go for a long-term strategy?
I don’t think this criticism is fair. We do follow up on the performances of our athletes and coaches. We are always looking for strategies to improve. In fact, we have already unveiled our vision for the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar.
We have set our targets and we are striving hard to reach them. The entire community has a role to play in this, not just the administration.
When do you reasonably expect a Cambodian athlete to get into Olympics on his or her own merit through qualification marks rather than the general Universality placements?
Sooner the better, but you have to be watchful in raising expectations. Two main areas of development are better infrastructure and training facilities.
We are fortunate that there are corporate sponsors like NagaWorld helping our cause, but we need more and more private-sector funding in strengthening our main plank. We have to strengthen our sports administration so that federations get stronger, and we have to build sports sciences, which play a major role in modern sports.
I sincerely hope that a Cambodian athlete can get into the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil on his or her own qualification merit.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]