The Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) – and the domestic Kun Khmer Federation – are devising concrete plans to bring the Kingdom’s traditional martial art to the world. Their next goal is to achieve the recognition of the Asia Games, before seeking a place at the highest level of international sports – the Olympic Games.

The project has the full support of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

A regional milestone was achieved in May, when Cambodia hosted the 32nd SEA Games. For the first time, Kun Khmer was featured as an event, with six nations taking part. The Kingdom’s fighters claimed 14 gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

As part of the sport’s growing momentum, the 4th World Kun Khmer Championship 2023 are being held from November 26-28. As a symbol of Cambodia’s growing confidence on the world sporting stage – and of the nation’s deep cultural connections to Kun Khmer – the event will be held on the soil of Angkor, in Siem Reap province.

The first steps

The event is set to be a landmark in the global recognition of the traditional art, as it marks the first step of the quest to achieve accreditation by the governing bodies of the Asia Games and the Olympics.

Vath Chamroeun, NOCC secretary-general, addressed a November 20 press conference to explain the Kingdom’s latest high-level sporting quest.

He described the clear purpose of the upcoming world championship as being to promote Kun Khmer to the world, as the participating countries must all accept the competition rules before Kun Khmer will be recognised by the Asia Games.

“In Southeast Asia, Kun Khmer is already well known, but over the next few years, we need to make a greater effort to make the Asia Games recognise it,” he said. 

“When Cambodia hosts the 2029 Asian Youth Games, we intend to submit Kun Khmer, as this will qualify it for the Asia Games, sometimes called the ‘Asian Olympics’. In the future, we want to submit Kun Khmer to the Olympic Games,” he added.

Meam Ra, head of the KKIF, believed the great success of Kun Khmer at the 32nd SEA Games had raised its profile in many countries, and more and more of them have now come to know and appreciate the sport. 

“Before the SEA Games, 29 countries were members of the KKIF. Now, there are more than 60,” he said.

He added that 17 countries are enrolled to compete at the world championships in Siem Reap: Mauritius, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Iran, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cameroon, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, France, Argentina, Vietnam and Laos, as well as hosts Cambodia. A total of 24 pairs of experienced fighters are geared up to fight for belts across four weight classes.

“Many other countries sought to compete, but as we hosted the SEA Games, we had limited time to prepare. We accepted the first 17 applications,” he said.

“In 2025, we anticipate a far larger event, as our goal is for Kun Khmer to receive the recognition of the Asia Olympics. Our big dream is to see fighters compete at the Olympic Games,” he added.

The Olympic pathway

Chamroeun, also the founder and secretary-general of the KKIF, explained that if Cambodia is successful in hosting the world championship each year, then the submission of Kun Khmer to the Asia and Olympic games will not be a problem.

“For the world champs to be a success, we need to ensure that the international competition rules are accepted and that we adhere to the Olympic Charter. We already have over 60 member countries, and just 75 are needed to be recognised by the Olympic Committee,” he said.

“We have set out a long-term strategic plan of seeing Kun Khmer at the 2032 Olympic Games in Australia. We are also strengthening the Kun Khmer Federation of Australia, as our ambition is to join the hosts and submit Kun Khmer to the Olympic Games. This would unlock the full potential of our beloved sport on the international stage,” he added.

Chamroeun noted that prior to the 4th World Kun Khmer Championship, the KKIF is due to hold a November 25 review meeting with its member countries. The international federation has a firm principle of encouraging member nations to hold similar events, in order to grow the sports’ popularity around the world.

“As 2024 will mark the fifth anniversary of the World Kun Khmer Championship, we need to make sure the event is taken seriously. It will be an opportunity to promote it more widely and make the sport even more across the globe,” he said.

“We will also apply the strategic principles of Kun Khmer to other countries. We are ready to enable some federations in each continent to act as deputies. They can work with us regionally, and will have the honour of sharing Kun Khmer all over the planet,” he added.

Respect, dignity

Ahead of the upcoming world championships, Tem Moeun, president of the Cambodian Boxing Federation, issued a reminder of the importance of the event to all of the officials and boxers who are going to be a part of it.

“As hosts, you must play by the rules and maintain the dignity of Cambodia. Our goal is to attract participants from other countries so they fall in love with Kun Khmer in the same way we have,” he said. “All of our officials and boxers must be disciplined and respect the rules of the competition. Our sole focus should be on the promotion of Kun Khmer.”

“This is an opportunity for us to showcase our discipline, character and morals, as well as our traditions and customs, to the world. The event should earn long-term friendships, solidarity and cooperation with all of the participating countries. We will need their support to achieve the major goal of submitting Kun Khmer to the Olympic Games,” he added.