After a series of dress rehearsals over the past few days, the curtain goes up on the biggest multi-discipline event the Kingdom has yet staged at a glittering opening ceremony to be presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany at the iconic Olympic Stadium on Friday evening.
The second edition of the National Games, involving 27 disciplines spread across 282 events to be contested by around 4,000 athletes, has been strategically planned as a crucial stress test for federations and a trial of strength for athletes in an effort to build a strong and secure future for Cambodian sport.
While most disciplines during the May 25 to June 5 Games will be held in Phnom Penh, newly introduced baseball will touch base in Kampong Thom, while the triathlon will be held on the coast in Kep.
The concept of a nationally structured competition led to the launch of the Games two years ago with just 15 disciplines. While the size and scope of the Games have widened cosiderably, the budget has almost doubled to 6 billion riel ($1.5 million) as well as an additional expenditure of $600,000 on the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies. As an added incentive, the cash rewards for medallists have increased five-fold.
As well as from the provinces, sides from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Economics and Finance will boost the participating teams to 28, with Phnom Penh topping the list with a squad of 285 athletes and officials pitched into 22 sports.
Shooters fired up
While bringing back baseball, the introduction of ITF-style taekwondo assumes greater significance in light of the national team’s spectacular recent showing at the 9th Asian Championships in Mongolia, where Cambodia won four gold, four silver and seven bronze medals.
And the fledgling shooting federation has been given an opening to showcase its new-found vigour in promoting the sport.
For well over a decade sports shooting suffered because of a weapons ban, but following a healthy revival of the federation nearly three years ago the popular Olympic discipline gets its due after narrowly missing a chance to send a team to last year’s SEA Games in Malaysia.
Along with most Olympic disciplines, the Games will also include soft tennis, petanque, bokator, khun Khmer and karate.
Friday’s opening ceremony will be held at Olympic Stadium under the supervision of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia. The competition side of the Games is the remit of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, in association with several state agencies.
According to the official schedule released by the NOCC, the three-hour opening ceremony, which will be interspersed with several rounds of breathtaking firework displays and other tech-driven shows, will begin soon after the arrival of the prime minister and his wife at around 5.30pm.
Spectacular Cauldron lighting
The first section of the show will include a rendition of the National Games song, Achariyeak Keyla Cheat (The Wonder of National Sport), followed by a bokator demonstration by military personnel. There will also be a taekwondo demonstration.
The Games torch will be lit by King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace and carried in a relay to the main stadium where Hun Sen will light the Games Cauldron with the press of a button to set off specially made fire arrows that will light the flame.
“This whole sequence is unique and will be one of the most memorable moments of these Games. We have sought advice from Malaysian and Chinese experts regarding some of the high-tech shows and firework displays that will add to the glitz and glamour of the opening,” said NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun.
“The timing of the National Games is crucial in evaluating the strength of our athletes as we plan for the upcoming Asian Games in Jakarta, but more importantly next year’s SEA Games in the Philippines.”
“It is also a good starting point to identify talent so that we can launch our long-term project of preparing our national athletes to perform at their best when we host the SEA Games in 2023,” he added.