King Norodom Sihamoni lit the SEA Games torch at Angkor Wat Temple on the morning of March 21, marking the kickoff of the relay of the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games torch.

The ceremony, timed to coincide with the equinox at Angkor Wat, was attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen and several government dignitaries including defence minister Tea Banh, interior minister Sar Kheng and tourism minister Thong Khon.

Chaiyapak Siriwat, CEO of the SEA Games Federation (SEAGF) Office, and Osoth Bhavilai, head of the ASEAN Para Sports Federation (APSF) Executive Committee, also witnessed the historic event, along with sporting delegations from the ASEAN nations.

The torch lighting ceremony was held directly in front of the famed Angkor Wat, just 45 days before the opening ceremony of the biennial multi-sports event, being hosted for the first time in the Kingdom.

Following the lighting, the torch was relayed around the Angkor Archaeological Park by nine well-known Cambodian athletes, including two SEA Games gold medallists. After completing the 8.3km course, the torch travelled to Rech Bo pagoda, commonly known as Wat Bo, where it remained overnight, under the care of the Cambodia SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC).

On the morning of March 22, the torch will depart for Vietnam, the first of the ASEAN nations it will be relayed through.

From Vietnam, it will pass through the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Laos, before returning to Cambodia on April 27.

Tourism minister Khon, who is also permanent vice-president of CAMSOC, explained the history of the games’ torch.

Runners kick off the torch relay at Angkor Wat on March 21. HUN MANY VIA FB

“The lighting of a torch to symbolise preparations for a large event began in ancient Greece, home of the original Olympic games. A flame was lit on the summit of Mount Olympus – said to be the home of the gods – using the heat of the sun. This tradition continues today, with the flame being lit in Greece and transferred to each of the modern Olympic Games,” he said.

“The SEA Games torch is a symbol of peace on Earth. It represents the solidarity, friendship and peace that sporting events can provide to us all,” he added.

Defence minister Tea Banh, who also heads CAMSOC, described the “excellent” preparations of the torch lighting ceremony as representative of the efforts that have gone into ensuring the torch relay – and the subsequent games – will be a success.

“Under the auspices of His Majesty the King, the lighting of the SEA Games flame writes another glorious chapter in the story of the Khmer people, who have a rich history of arts and culture in the region,” he said.

“This magnificent flame reflects the divine energy of friendship, solidarity and sustainability. It also shows the potential of sport to promote peace and development. It is a perfect symbol of the slogan we have selected for this year’s games: ‘Sport: Live in Peace’,” he added.