The national Vovinam championship is currently under way at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Run by the Cambodian Vovinam Federation (CVF), the competition began on January 2, and will conclude on January 4.

The popularity of the Vietnamese martial art has grown in recent years, with Khmer practitioners defeating Vietnamese opponents on several occasions.

Competitors from 17 of the Kingdom’s associations and clubs are set to take part in demonstration events, as well as nine weight classes of combat matches, with 65 male and 35 female athletes taking part.

Noticeably absent are two-time SEA Games gold medallist Eh Virak Kham Chhit Phuthong – known as “the boxer of ten thousand skies” – and his brother, national gold medallist Eh Amarin Phuthong.

A CVF official told The Post that although Kham Chhit was registered to fight in a bout on the first day of the competition, he did not show up to the weigh-in, thus automatically ceding the match.

National vovinam coach Pov Sokha explained that although the fighter was registered, he was injured in a Town Arena Kun Khmer match with Thai boxer Extra Phetchamphu on New Year’s Eve, and could not compete. Despite the injury, he claimed a points victory.

His brother did not register for the national champs, but also won a points decision at Town Arena, defeating US fighter Christian Rage.

The two brothers also took part in the 2023 National Global Boxing Championship on December 26-29, with Kham Chhit claiming gold in the 67kg weight class. His brother, fighting in the 71kg category, was defeated by gold medallist Penh Vanthorng.

SEA Games medallist and vovinam world champion Pov Sokha explained that the absence of the two high-profile brothers would not disrupt this year’s national championship, but would give younger fighters a chance to demonstrate their ability. 

“Their absence is not a problem. We are focussing on developing the next generation of competitors, and we know that both brothers already have the capacity to compete at an international level,” he said.

“In fact, when they compete at the national level, they sometimes intimidate younger fighters. The fact that they are not here means there is less pressure on the next generation of athletes, and they will be able to relax and give their best,” he added.

He also explained that the brothers’ absence did not mean they had vacated their places in the national team.

“They are not alone in not taking part this year. I am not competing either, along with several other team members. Some are acting as match officials or coaches, but not being in the ring does not mean we are giving up our positions,” he said.

“The CVF is well aware of our capabilities, and by leaving the contest to the next generation, they have the chance to compete at their full capacity. The federation will hold separate trials for the national team, with foreign coaches and selectors, prior to deciding on the make-up of the national team in 2024,” he added.