Rugby is a sport that requires grit and toughness – and the Cambodian people have those attributes in abundance. After being slowly re-established over the last three decades, the sport is now flourishing and going from strength to strength.
The nation was first introduced to the sport when Cambodia was a part of French Indochina. French expats taught the game to all who were interested.
After independence, there was a long hiatus, as financial and political forces, from famine to the Khmer Rouge, meant it was impossible for the game to be played.
The game became re-established in the 1990s, partly through the presence of British, Singaporean and Australian expatriates.
In 1998, the Rugby Club du Cambodge was set up, with its senior team known as Les Piliers d’Angkor.
The Indochine Cup was established in 1999 as a four-sided tournament between teams from Phnom Penh, Vientiane in Laos and Saigon and Hanoi in Vietnam.
In January 2000, the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile) taught children the sport, and from there it spread into some Cambodian schools.
Rugby began to gain traction, and in 2001 the annual 10-a-side international Angkor 10’s tournament was established.
The same year saw the first National Championship, with four tournaments held around rural Cambodia.
In 2002, Tan Theany, the secretary-general of the Cambodian National Commission for Unesco, formed the Cambodian Federation of Rugby (CFR).
Under the responsibility of the new CFR, 2003 saw eight junior teams competing in a round robin pool tournament, and a domestic sevens senior competition was established with over 100 players participating during the 2004-2005 season.
When a team was sent to the Bangkok Sevens in Thailand in 2004, Cambodian rugby enhanced its reputation in the region even further.
Fast forward to 2019, and the CFR is expanding fast through its grassroots programme to find and cultivate talent from across the country.
With support from World Rugby’s “Get Into Rugby” and ChildFund’s “Pass It Back” programmes, the federation has all it needs to progress.
The two initiatives not only help introduce young people to rugby, but they also assist children in all aspects of their lives by helping them to learn essential life skills.
Now the federation is seeking to spread rugby throughout Cambodia and increase participation and viewership.
This is being spearheaded by John Mojsa, CFR rugby development manager and head coach of the national seven-a-side men’s team, and women’s national sevens team head coach Rosa Ball.
Both are passionate about sharing what the game of rugby has to offer on and off the pitch.
Both being foreigners – Ball from the US and Mojsa from England – they offer different perspectives to their respective outfits.
Ball has helped gain international support in the form of a drive to acquire donated boots, with many of her former teammates in Jacksonville, Florida sharing their rugby equipment.
Optimism abounds as we head into the 2019/2020 season.
“We have the foundations in place to make it our best year yet. We have high expectations, but we know our goals are very realistic. We want to double our participation levels with a key focus on female inclusion,” said Mojsa.
On October 26-27, Phnom Penh will host the Champion Nation Rugby sevens tournament, which is organised by the CFR and supported by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia.
More information can be found on Facebook (@CambodiaRugby).