With Sihanoukville hosting the inaugural Southeast Asian Sailing Championship this week, National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) secretary-general Vath Chamroeun expressed confidence for the future of the sport in the Kingdom and the region.

Running from December 12-17, the Southeast Asian Sailing (SEAS) Championship 2021 is being jointly organised by the Cambodia Sailing Federation and Singapore Sailing Federation.

The first international sailing event to be staged by the Kingdom takes place as Cambodia gears up to host the Southeast Asian Games in 2023.

While the wind direction was forecast to make things difficult for the competitors over the first couple of days of competition, he said the development of sailing in Cambodia was heading firmly in the right direction.

“We have been encouraged by the performance of our sailors in previous international competitions, such as the Jakarta Palembang 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, where our young sailors performed very well. This can only improve, and we are hopeful of seeing some strong performances from our athletes this week.

“While a fairly new sport here – the Cambodian Sailing Federation was formed in 2015, and joined World Sailing in 2017 – sailing in the Kingdom has been growing steadily over the past few years.

“The NOCC and Cambodian Sailing Federation have been pushing hard on developing elite competition. We have sent sailors for training in countries such as China and Singapore, and focused heavily on them taking part in international competitions,” Chamroeun, who is also vice-president of the Cambodian Sailing Federation, said on Saturday.

NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun.Heng Chivoan

Thirty-seven competitors from the three nations taking part – Cambodia, co-hosts Singapore and Malaysia, along with support teams, technical staff and officials – converged on Sihanoukville’s Sokha Beach Resort to contest the SEAS Championship 2021, which is aimed at strengthening sailing in the region.

‘Unifying sailing’

With the motto “United Sailing with Passion”, it is aimed for the first ever regional sailing competition to be held annually as plans for the creation of a Southeast Asian sailing federation gather momentum.

The former Olympian said there were myriad advantages to hosting the championship, from accelerating the creation of a regional body and sharpening organisational capabilities ahead of the Cambodia 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, to showcasing the remarkable strides in the Kingdom’s sailing.It would also help to showcase Sihanoukville, sparking greater tourism to the coastal city.

“The event, held with the aim of unifying sailing in Southeast Asia as a regional body, is a necessary step in growing the sport. By co-hosting the competition with Singapore, we are confident of other members following and the SEAS Championship continuing every year.

“While it is unfortunate that other nations couldn’t take part due to their quarantining regulations, by holding this event with the participation of Singapore and Malaysia, we are sending a strong message to the rest of the region,” said Chamroeun.

Chamroeun, a wrestler for Cambodia at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, said safety was paramount at the SEAS Championship 2021 and all other forthcoming international sporting events to be held in the Kingdom.

“As the head of the NOCC, I gained important experience with sport pandemic protocols from the Tokyo Olympics, which were held at the height of the Covid-19 health emergency.

“While this championship gives the Cambodia Sailing Federation invaluable experience in hosting international events regarding safety, logistics and hospitality, it also signals to the Kingdom’s other sporting bodies that we can host such competitions as we accelerate preparations – which have been hit by Covid – in the run-up to hosting the SEA Games,” he said.

Sailors make preparations at the first Southeast Asian Sailing Championship. Heng Chivoan

Cambodian hopes are led by 19-year-old Nhov Chan competing in the ILCA 7 sailing class, who has already at a tender age lodged respectable performances in SEA and Asian Games.

SEAS Championship 2021 competition manager Joe Chan – a former World Sailing regional development coordinator for Asia – said the events would comprise (International Laser Class Association) ILCA 7, ILCA 6 and ILCA 4 sailing classes, and Bic Techno and RS One windsurfing categories.

‘Significant progress’

The ILCA single-handed, one-design dinghies are raced across the world from club to Olympic levels, and Chan and a team of Cambodian sailors and windsurfers head to Malaysia in February to take part in the renowned Langkawi International Regatta.

Chan, who has been part of the global drive to develop the sport as part of the emerging nation’s programme, said he was impressed with the speed of Cambodia’s progress.

“Cambodian sailing was really only getting started in 2017, with the sailors receiving Level 1 coaching – which is basically for beginners – so to now be hosting an international event, it really is significant progress. And I expect at least some of the Cambodian sailors to do very well.

“I am very optimistic for the future of sailing in the Kingdom because I can see that the Cam-bodian Sailing Federation is very focused on growing the sport.

“Vietnam has not included sailing for the SEA Games to be held next year, and the fact that Cambodia, despite having a small and nascent sailing community, has included it for 2023 shows the commitment to the sport and really means something,” said the two-time Olympian and multiple SEA Games medallist.

Tourism Minister Dr Thong Khon (second left), who is also the NOCC president, was present to encourage the Cambodians. Heng Chivoan

The Singaporean said the successful hosting of events such as the SEAS Championship would only increase dramatically the Kingdom’s reputation as a sailing destination. “If this same level of commitment and focus from the Cambodian Sailing Federation is continued, then I see the sport growing even more because if you increase visibility then even more people will become interested.

“Hopefully more people internationally will, through events such as this in Sihanoukville, become aware that Cambodia has such great places to sail.

With Sihanoukville so close to Thailand, anyone who goes to Pattaya for the sailing can also pop over here. Sihanoukville will hopefully grow into a regional sailing destination to rival neighbouring Pattaya and Phuket,” said Chan, who competed for Singapore at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 1992 edition in Barcelona.