After decades of conflict, Cambodia is set to host the 2023 Sea Games. The government is planning to spend about $400 million to organise the games and build a sporting complex, the Morodok Techo National Stadium, with aid granted from China. Cambodia failed to organise the Sea Games in 1963 due to political issues with Thailand over the disputed Preah Vihear temple. The 2023 games coincide with the National Election that year. Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee, speaks to Kay Kimsong, COO of Khmer Times, on the preparations.
KT: Cambodia has in the past organised two National Games. We have two more prior to the 2023 Sea Games. Are you worried that you might have too much on your plate?
Mr Chamroeun: Firstly, our plan is clear, so our goal is clear. We are aware that we are going to be faced with lots of obstacles, but we believe that we can deal with any challenges before 2023. The Sea Games 2023 will bring the Kingdom prestige and economic benefits. After the games, the infrastructure is going to be left for the next generation. Their quality of life will be much better than ours.
KT: Why do most countries in the region want to host the Sea Games? What benefits does it bring during and after the games?
Mr Chamroeun: People change their behaviour after being exposed to sports. It promotes unity and friendship and it creates connections between people. Sports also teach people to work in teams, and that’s why sporting events are important to us. There’s no discrimination in sports – no race, no colour, no sex and no politics. The blind or disabled play because they are treated equally. Countries that host international games are always encouraging their people to be proud of their heritage, so it creates a sense of nationalism. When our athletes attend international games, they are playing on behalf of our country. Nationalism is a part of our social development.
KT: Let’s talk about accommodations, human resources, and the games’ officials. At what stage are we on now?
Mr Chamroeun: Our duties deal with three major aspects. The first is infrastructure. The building of a sports complex depends on what the complex is going to be used for. We can build it when we have the money, but human resources is not going to be easy, even with enough money. Our biggest concern is quality, skill, performance and the credibility of experts and officials.
Our priority is also our athletes. Since we will host in 2023, we can’t display weakness and waste money. We will shame our own people and lose face to the international community. So we must focus on training our athletes and coaches because these are the people who will bring gold to our country. The next step is to provide the necessary skills to succeed to those who will participate in the sporting events. We need professional trainers who are experts in sports science; we need to be able to compete with international athletes.
KT: How do you find these experts, coaches and trainers?
Mr Chamroeun: We often send our players to participate in international sporting events so that we know their strengths and weaknesses, so that coaches know their strengths and weaknesses. Coaches understand what training standards should be applied and which techniques to use. An athlete must train five hours a day or else we won’t be able to meet international standards. Our main concern is quality, skills and overall athlete development – we have four years to prepare for the event. According to one theory, four years is enough to train them properly and make them perform well.
Coaching skills are also an imperative. Most coaches here lack the experience, that’s why we need foreign coaches. So beginning next year, we need coaches from China, Korea and Japan. When it comes to training, there are two ways of doing this; we can either send our athletes abroad or invite trainers to come to Cambodia. For those athletes who are noticeably talented, we will send them to train outside of the country so that they may reach their full potential, where there are good coaches, physical trainers with proper training equipment and experience.
KT: How do you propose to improve an athlete’s living standards?
Mr Chamroeun: Cambodian athletes are paid about $500 per month and 60 percent of them are students. There are advantages and disadvantages when athletes are given a salary. The good thing is that the money could be used properly, like on meals. But if they use the money for travel expense, luxury goods or alcoholic products, then that becomes a problem. We have learned from other countries on how to manage athletes by placing them in one complex and applying a strict set of rules. We now have a complex dedicated to their training at the National Olympic Stadium. Next year, we will begin to house them there so that they could train and be managed easily.
KT: Does the NOCC have enough training equipment?
Mr Chamroeun: We lack many types of equipment. There is definitely a shortage of that, as our national budget is limited. I’ll give you an example. Our tennis equipment and bikes used in races are of low-quality. The higher the quality, the better chance we have at winning. These cheaper, older products are a huge obstacle to overcome. Starting from next year, we will begin to consider allocating a more sufficient budget to up the quality of the equipment we use by 50 percent in all categories. All equipment should meet the international standard.
KT: What measures will be taken to ensure security during the events?
Mr Chamroeun: A digital monitoring system will be set up. We are setting up safety measures to safeguard seating arrangements and ticketing. For example, if I bought tickets to see the games, my detailed information would be uploaded to a server. And as for the tickets themselves, you can buy them online. The NOCC will create an International Broadcasting Centre three months before the games commence. The IBC will manage local and foreign media. This is also a good opportunity to sell our products to tourists. International sporting events are a great way to tell the world about us. Journalists will be free to cover anything they want, there will be no restriction or pressure from the authorities.
KT: The Morodok Techo National Stadium was funded by China, so what do you think China wants in return from Cambodia?
Mr Chamroeun: China has a history of helping build stadiums in Africa to host international games, but China has never before provided aid for the sporting sector.
For Example in Laos, there is no money from the Chinese government, but a private Chinese company has built it for Laos. Laos provides some pieces of land for a Chinese company to develop it. So, with Laos, it is different from funding Cambodia and Africa. For Africa, Chinese grant aid has been given to build stadiums. So what will China get in return for the stadium? China wants to have a good reputation for hundreds of years to come. The host country, like countries in Africa, will always be grateful to any donor and the donor country will always be remembered. But there are conditions that must be met before we take donations. The first is that the stadium will be owned by Cambodia. The second is that donor countries must participate in the sporting events. And finally, it has to come with support for Cambodia’s sporting infrastructure.